Friday, December 31, 2004

My Friend Jane's Beautiful and Touching Letter About the Tsunami and the New Year

My friend and co-writer, Jane Mulholland, has written a beautiful and touching New Year's letter that captures my deep sadness at the tragic events of Christmas Day and its aftermath. So I am posting her letter here for everyone to appreciate. Thank you, Jane, for sharing these heartfelt words. Jane's words are in blue.

December 31, 2004


New Year’s seems a good time to reflect and of course to make resolutions for the coming year. This is a good thing because as living beings growth and change are significant qualities of being alive.

This year is hard, however. The devastation caused by the tsunami has bared us to grief and ruin beyond our wildest imagination. Daily the destruction grows with incomprehensible suffering in a population already challenged by the grind of poverty and in Sri Lanka by civil war.

As I read the paper every morning, I feel overwhelmed by the enormity of the damage, angered by President Bush’s slow and minimal response, and powerless to do anything of significance. As I reflect on all of this, I think of a quote I read recently that said not knowing what to do, was no excuse for doing nothing. Remembering that, I took out my check book earlier this week and wrote a check to one of the relief agencies listed in the paper. I will do the same next month as the process of rebuilding what has been lost will take months, if not a lifetime.

In doing this I am aware of how little it is. I am also aware that I am now connected as a member of the world community to the solution. With this small contribution, I remember the 75 year old black lady who told me of her participation in the March on Washington where Martin Luther King made his famous “I Have a Dream” speech. She said, “It was the most powerful witness, I have experienced in my life.” My Midwestern, Protestant upbringing had not exposed me to the idea of “witnessing.” But immediately I knew what she meant. Part of what I feel is the need to be connected and involved – not to stand apart, but in some way to acknowledge what can’t be comprehended.

Reports say that most of the dead are women and children. What do you do that is significant for the man who has lost his wife and children? What do you do for the orphans in the street? More than nothing is all that will suffice. And no, it is not enough.

Colin Powell now says our early response of $25 million is just the beginning. That the inaugural party will cost a reported $40 million furrows this brow. But like my small check, I will take it as a beginning. I will also keep mindful that as a people we expect a better response from our government and will continue to pressure the White House and my Senators and Congressman and my party to do what is necessary as the need becomes clear.

The number of countries affected by this catastrophe reminds us, we are all in this together. While we are here it is critical that we stay involved, connected, and remain compassionate and caring through our actions, not just through appropriate and appealing words. Your small check will count, will make a difference.

Happy New Year!
In peace and with a promise of greater tolerance and understanding in 2005, Jane Mulholland

Saturday, December 25, 2004

Christmas Dawns and Caramel Rolls Beckon

I'm typing in the dark, nose about two inches from the keyboard so I can see in the reflected glow of the monitor. It is not so early on Christmas morning, but still dark. Victoria bounced into our bedroom at 3:45 AM, announced that it was Christmas, and expected us to get up and open presents. Hah!

But by 6:15 AM, I hurt too much to stay in bed, so I got up, took two tramadol, and came out the see what I could do in the dark - not wanting to wake anyone else up prematurely.

Tramadol aside: I have deterioration in the femoral joints of both my hips. It is a matter of time before I have to have hip replacement surgery. Recently, they have been more painful than usual, probably because I've been on my feet a lot rather than in my recliner. (A recliner is the most comfortable locale for my painful hips, takes the pressure right off of them.) Sleeping is especially bad - or should I say "trying to sleep" is especially bad? - because I can't lay on either side without causing myself enough pain to awaken me. I also can't sleep on my stomach because I had a disk in my neck fused years ago, so I am a one-position sleeper at the moment. It frustrates me to no end, but, as the Borg say, "Resistance is futile." I may have to think more seriously about the hip replacements.

When I got up, I did turn on the Christmas tree lights which are blinking quite beautifully across the room from me. It is a pleasant view from my desk. A moment ago, I stepped to the back door to see if the snow was still there, and a holographic reflection of my Christmas tree appeared in 3-D under the canopy frame on the patio. Neat!

There is no snow. This is Houston, why am I surprised? Because it did snow yesterday, a rare and amazing event to most Houstonians. When we got the first flurries - and they barely rated as flurries! - Michael called me outside to see them. It took a minute, but, yes, Virginia, there was snow. Watching my neighbors watch it barely snowing tickled me more than the snow. People from three or four houses stood outside, heads craning upwards, oohing and aahing. I am not knocking the wonder of snow, especially if you hardly ever see it, but at that moment, the snow existed only until it got about five feet off the ground, when it melted and finished off as drizzle. (I guess that's a good reason to crane your head upwards ... )

Towards evening, as it got colder, the snow stuck a bit and we had little wisps of it puddled in the sheets that are draped over the plants we are guarding from frost. Snow stays on the sheets longer than it stays on the ground because warmth radiates up from the ground. That's the principle that allows you to protect your plants from freezing by draping them. The cover keeps the heat from the ground contained enough to warm the air around your plant. And all these years, I thought the sheets just kept the frost from touching the plant surfaces. The things you learn on the internet.

Caramel roll emergency!!! I just remembered that I had to take the caramel rolls out of the fridge and let them rise an hour or so before I could bake them from Christmas morning breakfast. Aggh!! I wasted an hour of bread rising time before it occurred to me. Oh, well, everyone else is still asleep and we'll want to open presents before eating sticky, gooey caramel rolls anyway.

Caramel roll aside: I don't have a recipe for caramel rolls, I just know how to make them from watching my grandmother and mother make them. It is incredibly simple and I'm happy to share the process with you. Make sweet bread dough in your bread machine, but DON'T bake it. Take the dough and roll it out on a floured surface until it is the size of a 9"x13" cake pan. Spread it liberally with margarine (or butter if your arteries can take it) and then sprinkle cinnamon sugar liberally on the that. Roll it up the long way, so that it is about 13" long. Pinch the seams to keep the rolls from falling apart before you get them baked. In the meantime, dump about half a bag of brown sugar into the cake pan and pour a small carton of heavy cream into it. Stir until well blended. Slice the caramel rolls into 15 rolls and place them in the pan in 5 rows of 3 each. Let the rolls rise, then bake according to directions in whatever cookbook you got your bread dough recipe from. The cream/brown sugar mixture will bake into the BEST caramel topping you ever ate. You will be so happy I told you this.

Now I'm going to go make a little noise and see if anyone else will wake up because I'm bored being the only mouse in the house on Christmas morning and I want to see what Santa left for me. More on that later.


Friday, December 24, 2004

These are the Santas I wrote about in my Santa Claus essay the other day. Aren't they great? Posted by Hello

Wednesday, December 22, 2004

... And eight dancing reindeer ...

Click on this link and then click on the various reindeer. It is almost as amusing as the horses doing four-part harmony. (You''ll find that in my archives.)


The true story of the couple who got married in a surprise wedding in a bar and lived to tell about it.

NOTE: It was December 21st when I started this, but December 22nd when it posted, therefore "Tonight" equals December 21st.

Tonight is the longest night of the year, the Winter Solstice. It is also the best night of the year because it is my wedding anniversary. Twenty-eight years ago tonight, Michael and I had a surprise wedding at the Buel Street Pub in Soulard in St. Louis, Missouri.

The idea for a surprise wedding developed from the movie "Cousin, Cousine," a 1976 French film in which a two cousins scandalize their families by pretending to have an affair, then actually fall in love and have an affair. (The film was later remade in English.) Michael and I were laughing so hard by the end of the movie that we wanted to find some terrific trick to play on our friends and families. Since we were already seriously thinking about marriage (at least I was serious), we came up with the idea of a surprise wedding.

Our friend Bob Brandthorst owned a neighborhood tavern in Michael's neighborhood - Soulard - and we decided to see if we could get married there. (We just couldn't imagine our friends in church and besides, we had both been married in churches before to no good end.) Michael was perhaps not quite as serious as I and he tried to weasel out of it by saying that he'd do it if Bob agreed, never dreaming that Bob would agree to close the bar for an evening for our wedding.

Well, it's not a big leap to realize Bob agreed. In fact, he thought it was a great idea for us to get married and so Michael couldn't get out of it. We picked December 21st for several reasons. It was a week night, one requirement Bob had for closing his tavern to regular business. It was one week before Michael's birthday, giving us a reason to use for having a party. And it was the longest night of the year, which sounded really titillating for our honeymoon.

Honeymoon aside: We didn't have much of one, just that one night with our friend Laurel taking Alix (aged 2) home with her to spend the night so we could be alone - but we did learn a lesson that I suspect most newlyweds learn. You are too tired after the wedding to do much but fall asleep. Things improved the next morning!

We invited our friends and family to a surprise birthday party for Michael. We did confess the truth to a few people, like our parents. We told our bosses so we could get off work and we also told a few out-of-town friends to get them to fly in for the wedding. And we told the best man and best woman. Everyone else was in the dark!

People came at the appointed time and started having fun drinking free beer and eating pretzels and nuts. When Michael showed up - tall, dark stranger in tow - people yelled "Surprise!" and "Speech, speech" just like any other surprise birthday party. Here is Michael's speech: "Thank you, everybody. This is quite a surprise, but not for me. I'd like to introduce John Robinson. He's our minister and he's going to marry Lane and I right here, right now."

After a moment of dead silence, the room erupted with cheering, applause and general mayhem. People loved the idea, shocked though they were. We got married and had a great evening. Everyone ate wedding cake and then we opened our presents. Guess what we got as wedding gifts? An pipe ashtray. An assortment of pipe tobaccos. Men's cologne. The sort of stuff you would give a 29 year-old-man for his birthday. Well, what did I expect?

A few of our friends gave us "real" wedding gifts later. Steffie and Len Marks, still dear friends, gave us a set of Irish coffee goblets that we have been drinking Irish coffee out of for twenty-eight years. Our Soulard house fell into the front yard (that's another story) and we subsequently moved seven times (to various cities) and yet every one of those goblets is intact, just like our marriage. Thanks for the good mojo, Stef and Len; here's a toast to you.

John Robinson, the UU minister that married us, had performed my wedding several years earlier in a church wedding. That marriage failed in very short order. In 1976, he performed our wedding in the bar and that marriage has lasted 28 years and is still going strong. So I recommend getting married in bars.

Michael and I made a special vow to each other: "Homicide, suicide or natural causes, the only way out is a pine box." There were days (running into months and years sometimes) of our marriage during which that vow was literally the cement that kept us together. That and the "Children Corollary" which is "We can't get divorced because no one wants custody of the children." When the children grew up, we extended the Children Corollary by adopting Victoria. When she grows up, we'll just have to take our chances because we aren't going to get have more children!!!!!

Now you know the true story of the couple who got married in a surprise wedding in a bar and lived to tell about it.


Tuesday, December 21, 2004

Michael and I celebrate our 28th wedding anniversary today. We have spent half of our lives together - the best half.  Posted by Hello

Saturday, December 18, 2004

A (Child-Friendly) Discussion of Good Old St. Nick

"It's a Wonderful Life" - what a great, old movie. I can't remember the first time I saw it. Like the "Wizard of Oz," it seems to have been around for my whole lifetime. Although I've seen it many, many times, I don't get tired of it or think it's cliche. The movie reflects my attitudes well; life is challenging, but the wonderful moments make everything else worthwhile.

The Christmas season is one of my most wonderful times of the year. Yesterday we put up the Christmas tree and I displayed my collection of Santas. I have a lot of Santas, too. Let me see how many I can describe:

There is a tall, Eastern Saint Nicholas with a crook, dressed in brocade and satin; a shorter Saint Nicholas with a red striped staff dressed in velvet; there's a funny, hand-sized, stuffed Santa that holds a Christmas music CD in the pack on his back - he rides in my gold wire sleigh that's pulled by a reindeer and full of "fir" branches and pine cones. I have a Coca-Cola drinking Santa in a snow globe with a train that travels around and around as the Coke theme song plays. The finely carved Santa from Oregon and resin Santa with a beautifully detailed blue cloak were both gifts from Michael. One unique Santa is a little round tin with a Santa hat for a lid; another is a squat Santa bell from Cozumel. In addition, there are probably another 10 or 15 Santas of various sizes and shapes, some whimsical, others solemn. My special new Santa for this year - purchased on sale last February and on display for the very first time - is a Texan Santa with all the Texan trimming. He is too cute. Oh, and I have a lovely, hand-made Santa with a curly beard and hooded cape with a fleece lining. He is quite beautiful.

My collection isn't limited to Santa figurines, though. I have a plate and cup for Santa's snack of cookies and milk, a set of 4 Christmas mugs, and 4 tiny Christmas books by Mary Englebreit. My friend Ann gave me the books. I have a Santa toothpick holder - purchased at Goodwill for 79 cents - that I use as a candle holder, a Santa mini-mug that I use as a candle holder, and an actual Santa candle holder that I use as a -- candleholder! And thanks to my friend Bertie, I have the biggest Santa yet, a stuffed Santa doll that's about 4 feet tall and is currently sitting in the easy chair in the Cozy Corner looking like he's all done in from the hectic pace of his workshop. (Okay, I posed him to look like that ... the real Santa probably has it completely under control.)

There are more, but you get the picture. I like Santas and I don't care who knows it. While I carefully unwrapped and set out Santas, Michael and Tori put up the tree and decorated it. Sometimes this is contentious, but they did it in pretty good order this year. We have an artificial tree because I'm allergic to real ones. When I was a child (in the fifties) no one took any notice of things like allergies. If you had one, you'd better keep it to yourself, especially if it involved the family Christmas tree. So every Christmas my eczema raged and my eyes ran. Of course, I didn't know why until I left home and was too poor to have a Christmas tree.

That first year, I made one out of paper chains. It had a kind of unnatural beauty. The trunk was the tube from a roll of wrapping paper. I made a wide round circle out of cardboard, covered it with tinfoil, and attached it a few inches above the bottom of the trunk. Then I strung paper chains from the top to the edge of the cardboard circle all around the tree. Michael unearthed a photo of it recently and I had to laugh (kindly) at my own creativity and persistence for celebrating Christmas while starving. That year, I had no Christmas itching and eye-watering. At some point, the ah-ha moment exploded in my brain and I have never had a "real" tree since.

This morning, Michael strung lights outdoor. The Christmas lights on our house are not fancy or special. We will never win a neighborhood lighting contest. It is a miracle that today wasn't freezing, because, in our relatively mild climate, Michael always seems to miss the nice weekend and put the lights up the one miserable weekend of the season. Congratulations, Michael, on your good luck this year.

Later in the day, Michael and Tori left for the Houston Photographic Society's end-of-the-year photo competition. It turned out to be a nice father-daughter event. Michael is chair of the competition committee this year so he had to go. Tori recently took a black and white photography course through the Girl Scouts and had a high interest level in the show. While they were gone, I organized and wrapped all my Christmas presents. They are now under the tree. Yee-haw, as we say in Texas.

I have been helping Santa, picking up some items that are hard to get at the North Pole. While looking those over, I decided that there wasn't enough stuff for Nick and Julia's stockings. Actually, I don't have enough stockings, either. I will have to address that. Any ideas for inexpensive stocking stuffers for two 26-year-olds? They have been singularly unhelpful about Christmas lists this year and so Santa's working blind here. I guess that means they'll be surprised!

Santa leaves us each a box of our favorite sugar cereal, a liter of our favorite soda (AKA pop), and a package of our favorite candy. I always have to help with the cereal and soda because Santa has a lot of trouble shopping at the grocery store. (There's a tendency for small children to mob him ... ) Check-out clerks and the people in line behind me kind of goggle at me the day I buy the cereal and soda. I'd like to know what's so strange about 5 boxes of sugar cereal and five liters of soda in a shopping cart.

I haven't exhausted the subject of Christmas, but I'm exhausted. As usual, everyone else is asleep and I am the lonely night owl. But the rest of my day is packed with stuff, so I have to blog late at night or there wouldn't be any blogging.

Michael listed my blog in our family's Christmas newsletter, which I mailed out in the Christmas cards on Friday. With any luck, some friends or family will actually read this. Hi, y'all!! Leave a comment if you do stop by.

Whether I know you or not, I hope you're having a wonderful life, too. When I say Merry Christmas, I mean best wishes for the season whatever your spiritual focus. It's the Solstice, Hanukkah and Kawaanza, too. Probably something else I've forgotten or don't know about. I honor them all. Santa is my hero - generous and warm and utterly trustworthy.

Ho-ho-ho and ciao!

Friday, December 10, 2004

Xmas Letter

Happy holidays from our family to yours. We usually write a letter to our family and friends updating them on the events of the year. (Yes, we know that we should be keeping up with people more regularly, but we just don't manage it ... ) For the past several years, we have written really clever and unusual letters, an antidote, as it were, to the usual Christmas letter drivel. This year it is a little harder to find an upbeat, clever way to describe our year.

Would it suffice to say that we are happy and love each other dearly? Michael isn't working at the moment, so I can't brag about the typical standard-of-living items like cruises or ski trips.

Trip aside: I did win a free cruise to the Grand Bahamas just after my surgery in May, which was terribly exciting at the time, but we haven't been able to use it because it isn't truly "free" and we don't want to spend the money right now. And we don't actually ski, so that's a red herring. But you get the idea.

The lack of money has caused us to focus more attention on our life at home. Michael has been here on a daily basis, something that I will miss so much when he does go back to work. We used to work together (when we edited the HOBIE Hotline magazine) and really liked it. We are compatible co-workers. Our talents synchronize well and we accomplish a lot. Finding a way to earn money working together at home is a goal of ours, unrealized for several reasons.

First, we have to find a viable idea. There are several good ideas that we have had, but getting capital to finance them is a problem. So second is financing. I guess that's it. Find the right idea and get money to start it going. Why can't we do it? Easier said than done, I guess. We are working on an idea right now that could be it ... time will tell.

Back to Christmas and the holidays. We are making creative - and nice - Christmas gifts for the family. That's been fun. The two of us, each busy with our own work, companionable ... perhaps that is a gift in itself.

In the odd way that optimism works, I find myself cheerful despite circumstances. We are blessed to have unemployment compensation. We are blessed to have a moderate lifestyle so that we are not stretched as thin as we might be. We are blessed that the things we love to do have already been paid for this year, i.e. our subscriptions to the Alley Theatre and the Houston Ballet, our membership in the Museum of Fine Arts Houston and the Houston Zoo. We are blessed that books are free at the library and that we have our own well-stocked library accumulated over the years. We are blessed that our friends and family are healthy and happy, too. We are blessed that we will celebrate our 28th wedding anniversary on the Winter Solstice. It is a season of blessings and I am happy.


Thursday, December 02, 2004 - The free five minute personality test! - The free five minute personality test!

Several years ago, I paid a psychologist a lot of money to administer and interpret this test, and here it is on the internet! Glory be. Take advantage of it, folks, it's a steal.

Ketchup Ain't Just for Burgers

Time to ketchup ... I have been distracted for too long. Some good distractions. My dearest, oldest friend, Ann, whom I've known since 1968, came for five days. We had fun, visited a lot of places with beautiful objects d'arte, laughed, talked and also got ready for Thanksgiving. Ann couldn't stay for Thanksgiving, but she helped me get ready because I had our friends Faye, Bill and Isabel over, as well as Alix and Adam. The company surpassed the dinner, and the dinner tasted very good! I still have some pie left.

Tori helped me make the pie. I got some photos and plan to post one, she looks so cute and overwhelmed! Of course, she's only 13. I also have a photo of the new cozy corner, thanks to Tori who shot the picture while practicing with her new camera. You'll get to see that one, too. And a picture of Ann, hopefully. A lot of photos to post.

I make fabulous pie. My crusts are really excellent - flaky and substantial. I use a recipe from an old Betty Crocker cookbook from the 60s. You can't beat it for pie crust. My pumpkin is good - I make it from scratch except for the pumpkin, which is canned - but my apple streusel pie is absolutely delicious. I had to bake two of each pie this year so we would have enough. Faye brought a pecan, too, so the pies overflowethed. Yum.

Now I'm suddenly thrown into Christmas. I am making felt Santa Bear tree ornaments for friends. Every evening I sit in my big lounge chair and cut out felt pieces, sew them together by hand and stuff them. I designed the bears myself. Pretty cute. Last year I made angels. I like to have something to give friends. I am also making Christmas gifts this year for several people. Partly because Michael still isn't working, partly because I'm in a "folksy" mood and feel like being creative. I'd tell you more about the gifts, but some people who are getting them may read this blog and be tipped off!! You'll have to wait until Christmas just like everyone else!

I need to get a Christmas letter and cards out. Last year I was really sick at Christmas and didn't do so well on those kind of niceties. The thing about lupus (my particular life hassle) is that you can't predict when it will throw a big kink in your plans. Last year at Christmas I was trying to arrange for three days worth of at-home steroid infusions so I wouldn't end up in the hospital. The holidays interfered, so I didn't get my infusions (which were ordered by the doctor December 17th) until December 31, January 1 and 2. I was pretty sick over Christmas.

This year, I'm not going to be sick. I was dragging pretty badly in October, but had some steroid injections and that helped. These are legal steroids, by the way, nothing unsavory. Although they are still dangerous. I have had a LOT of steroids over the last 15 years, since my diagnosis. And I have had a LOT of complications from the steroids. They are nothing to fool with. But, if you need them, you really need them.

I know I'm rambling. I am feeling flighty. I need to do some work and I'd just as soon not, so I am dissembling. Well, no more of that. I have been poked into blogging after an inexcusable absence and I will blog again soon.


Wednesday, November 10, 2004

Copyright Stuff

I put a Creative Commons copyright on my blog today. It applies to my whole blog, including previously published material. It is a flexible copyright: follow the link and read it. Creative Commons has an innovative concept for people who want to share their work. You should check them out.


H. L. Mencken Speaks From the Grave

As democracy is perfected, the office of president represents, more and more closely, the inner soul of the people. On some great and glorious day the plain folks of the land will reach their heart's desire at last and the White House will be adorned by a downright moron. H.L. Mencken (1880 - 1956)

What more can I say?


Tuesday, November 09, 2004

Pitts Nails It

Monday evening, I read Leonard Pitts Jr's 11-08 column "As election demonstrated, the time has come for the Christian Left." Pitts writes for the Miami Herald, but I read his column in the Houston Chronicle. He's a good writer and has good ideas, so I at least skim his column whenever I see it. Today's column really struck home. I urge you to read it. (After you do, you will understand my word plays about nails and homes. Sorry, I couldn't help myself.)

I'll look for a link on the net and if I find one, I'll come back and post it.

As I forgot to say in my earlier post about the election, Costa Rica, et al: Ciao!

Monday, November 08, 2004

And I have 33 posts (counting this one) not 20!

EXTRA! EXTRA! Blogspot Eats Post

This is not my first post since Halloween. Blogspot ate my post about the election. Talk about heaping insult on injury! It took me several days after the election to get to a point of calm in which I could write about it. I poured my heart out, carefully constructing a statement that expressed my dismay and deep sense of betrayal without overtly abusing anyone or violating the bounds of propriety, loose though they are in bloggerland.

After I spell checked it and read it one last time, I clicked on “post” and watched the program move into slow-mo. The green bars barely advanced across the bottom of my screen and then they stopped. Nothing worked. I tried to save the post as a draft: nothing.

It broke my heart. I don’t have the fortitude to recreate the post because it was and is too painful a topic. I hate that Bush won reelection. I hate that so many people voted for him. I hate that I will have to endure the consequences of their actions for years to come, court appointments and all. I hate that people voted against their own best interests – at least the vast, non-rich majority of people – on bogus issues trumped up by the slime balls working for Chief Slime Ball Karl Rove.

I am moving to Costa Rica.

The research indicates that it is a stable, democratic country with a good universal healthcare system and the government even provides free e-mail to all its citizens. How cool is that? To gain legal resident status as a pensioner – which I certainly am – you need a passport, birth certificate, police check with fingerprints and $600 per month US in guaranteed income. I have all of that. Many people speak English so my inadequate Spanish isn’t as much of a problem as I expected. Housing is available for reasonable prices. And I don’t have to live with the daily aggravation of being governed by Dubya and his ilk.

I have to do a couple of things first. Pay off all my bills (can’t move to a foreign country in debt, now can you?); learn at least basic Spanish; arrange for Victoria’s education; sell my house (to fund our new house in Costa Rica). This is all doable. It might take a couple of years, but by then we’ll know for sure how things are going with the country and whether I’m going to be just visiting or staying on.

Sunday, October 31, 2004

Halloween Happiness

I love Halloween. What a wonderful holiday. I grew up in North Dakota and I have Trick or Treated in blowing snow. Who cares if you need a parka and boots? People give you candy for showing up at their door. I don't discriminate against the older trick or treaters, either. A kid is a kid as long as their heart is in it, so if you ring my bell, I will give you candy.

I buy a lot of candy. It would mortify me if I ran out and had to turn off my porch light early. But the children don't show up at the door like the old days and I always have candy left over. For that reason, and because I'm kind hearted, I buy good candy. None of the super cheap stuff that kids just leave in their bag until they are desperate for a sugar fix; there has to be something chocolate in the handful each child gets.

Sometimes I dress up to answer the door. It depends on how I'm feeling and the weather. Today it is warm in Houston - high 80s I'd guess - and I am already stifling from staying in my church Halloween clothes all day. I wore black slacks and a black, long-sleeved shirt with a sleeveless, bright orange summer top over it. It actually came off very well, but it is too warm and I should have changed. Oh, well ... I'm just lazy.

Last night we went to a fabulous Halloween party at our friends Joanna and Tom Crawford's house. The Crawfords host a party for Halloween every year. The food is luscious, usually hot and spicy to match the season, and the drinks are plentiful. Children are welcome if they are with parents and almost everyone wears a costume.

Michael won't go, but Tori and I went with Alix and Adam. Tori was some kind of dark princess, not a "name" character, but very cute. Alix wore her Renaissance Festival costume and looked perfectly "middle-aged." Adam went as his Mormon "cousin" Magenta from Ogden, Utah. Pretty funny to see him in a dress. I went as Parvati Manners, the Eurasian daughter of the main characters from "The Raj Quartet." If you look back in my archives for August and September, you'll find a number of references to those four books - I really liked them. Anyway, I accomplished this by wearing a sari.

The sari is a wonderfully comfortable piece of clothing. Imagine seven yards of silk wrapped around you with a few folds (actually eight) and tucks here and there. The tail of the fabric flips over your left shoulder and you're dressed. Of course, you wear a shirt. The Indians have special shirts with matching petticoats that coordinate with the sari; I bought a shirt at Target that matched my sari's color and wore a long slip. It worked for me.

I got a quick lesson in how to wrap it from the man who sold it to me and then I looked on the internet for a refresher. According to one internet site, Indians consider it very immodest if you bosom shows, even though you are wearing a blouse.

Tuesday, October 26, 2004

Audioblogging on Candy (A Test)

this is an audio post - click to play

NaNoWriMo -OR- NaNoBlogMo: That is the ?

November is National Novel Writing Month -or, alternately, National Novel Blogging Month. If a person commits to doing this, the object is to write 50,000 words between November 1 and November 30, 2004. This is the equivalent of a 175 page book. I am thinking about doing it.

Thinking. About. Doing. It.

Do I have a novel in me? I have started a few novels. I have had LOTS of ideas for novels. I have written a couple of short stories. I am much better at playwriting. When I think about plays, I think of them as novels with everything but the dialogue removed. Of course, stage directions are somewhat like the non-dialogue details of novels. But novels intimidate me because there are just so many damned words to write.

Enter my blog. I have been regularly clocking between 750 and 1200+ words in a blog post. That's not bad. I would need to do 1600-1700 daily to get 50,000 words in a month. But I think writing this blog has shown me that I can do that.

Next problem is a plot and characters - something to write about. I have a lot of "stuff" but is any of it ready to coalesce into a novel? I just don't know.

Cat Aside: My cat Jack is up on the desk trying to distract me from writing. He weighs over 20 pounds, so he can be a distraction. Especially when he walks on the keyboard, purrs in my ear, nibbles on my neck - hell, he's as good as Michael at that ...

If - and it's a big if - I do this, should I blog it? That is a little daunting, to let people see my possibly fumbling efforts to write a book on-line. It's likely to be awful. The theory the NaNoWriMo people go on is "Quantity, not quality." Polish it up later. So it would be raw stuff.

Also, I would have to suspend this blog for a while, because I don't think I can write a 50,000 word novel and keep up regular posts besides. (Although I might be surprised.)

I am seriously thinking about doing this. I could use feedback. If you've been reading my blog at all, you have a sense of me as a writer. What do you think? Should I go for it? Would you want to see any of it along the way? Would you be upset if I suspended my blog for a month?

Your opinions count, so let me know.


Sunday, October 24, 2004

Twists and Turns

"Twists and Turns," the collaboration show sponsored by WIVLA (, opened last night at the Museum of Printing History in Houston. The air crackled with excitement. Beautiful women and their debonair escorts enjoyed delicious food, sipped wine and viewed a roomful of captivating art before retiring to the theatre for a round of provocative and moving readings. The artwork paired with each manuscript flashed up on the wall of the theatre during its respective reading. Each attendee received a chapbook of the collected manuscripts to read while viewing the art on exhibit and to take home as a souvenir.

For me, the evening offered pleasure after pleasure. For one thing, I had compiled the twenty-five manuscripts into a chapbook which my colleague,Kellye Sanford, designed and laid out. I had not seen it until that evening; it turned out very professionally. I must re-emphasize my comments of the other day about the efficacy of chapbooks. I'm thinking of producing at least one chapbook myself, "The Crone of Taos." More on that another day.

I felt terrific about myself. In fact, I channeled Frida Kahlo for the evening, dressing in my red, off-the-shoulder peasant dress, with my hair French-braided and a large arrangement of colorful ribbons at the nape of my neck. I wore a bright red necklace of graduated wooden beads and some lovely red ceramic earrings I bought for my 50th birthday party. My tan leather "flamenco" shoes graced my feet and I finished it off with a red, fringed silk shawl featuring a multi-colored design. Did I mention I felt terrific about myself? That's because I looked terrific!! (It's the same dress I have a picture of in my August archives, although that day I accessorized it more informally.)

Many of my friends attended. Not just my friends from the organization, but invited guests: Bertie, Cheryl and Dan, Faye, Bill and Isabel, Carolyn and Tom, Sam and Howard. And all my children. Really, all of them. Tori came with us, of course, and Alix and Adam joined us there. But the biggest surprise of all? Nick and Julia drove in from Austin just for the evening as a treat for me. Delightful. I was sitting in the darkened theatre listening to the readings when I heard a "Psst," from the back. I turned and saw Tori next to a tall, thin shadowy figure with a very large, bushy hairdo. Nick!! The hair gave it away. Nick's hair is very curly and full when he lets it grow out, as he currently is. (Someone walked up to him during the evening and said, "What kind of artist are you? You look like a sculptor.")

After the event, the family went to dinner, along with Bertie, and ate good cheap food at the West Gray Cafe, laughed and talked, then said our sad good-byes. Poor Tori wept when Nick and Julia got ready to drive back to Austin. She loves Nick so much and it kills her that her big brother doesn't live at home anymore - or at least near by. But I just felt happy and touched that so many people I care about came to see the show and hear me read.

About the art. Compelling, provocative, intriguing, funny and fun, poignant, frightening. Those adjectives and more. Because the show used a theme with so much room for interpretation, we had 27 very different entries. But I just love the two pieces that my collaborators did. I've already described them in earlier entries, but let me add that seeing the finished, hung work left me agape. My words just seem puny in comparison to their images, although I know the artists don't feel that way. Perhaps because I am "fluent" with language and writing, I take it for granted and don't give myself enough credit for what I do.

I often wish I could draw or that I had real artistic talent. I do piddle with watercolors and otherwise entertain myself, but I am not an artist. I have a similar desire to be musical, which I am not despite nine years of piano lessons as a child. I want to be able to do everything: speak Spanish and French fluently, travel in Europe and Asia, live in the Caribbean, sail the ocean, take a cottage in Ireland for a summer, sew well, keep house, cook like a gourmand ... well, all in good time, all in good time. After all, I'm only 54.

Last night's magic lingers.


Saturday, October 16, 2004

Just Say No to Puppies OR Teens 4, Lane 0

Dogs 'r not us. We have tried, usually because of the pitiful pleas of our children. Michael had a dog - Scottie - when we met, and once it was, admittedly, me that made the pitiful pleas. That resulted in Blitz, an Afghan hound we never should have owned. But the other dogs we have owned "belonged" to our children, at least until the novelty wore off and ownership passed on to Michael and I. This is not a new story. Most families with dogs (or cats, for that matter) can relate to it.

Tori managed to pull a new one on me yesterday. Tori and her friend Kristen. Picture this: your doe-eyed young teen daughter appears at your front door with her friend and says, "Kristen needs your help." Immediately, the mom-hormones surge and you prepare to tackle a serious problem. I expected Kristen to be locked out, to have forgotten a desperately needed book at school, to be ill, injured or broken. Knowing her mom worked, I expected, at the least, to offer her a free telephone call. What Kristen said was, "I need someplace to keep a puppy until my friend's birthday."

This led to a long list of sensible questions from me. "Why couldn't she take the puppy home?" They have three other dogs. "Why couldn't she wait and pick the puppy up later in the week?" The owners were going to sell it to someone else if she didn't buy it right away. "How did she know her friend could have a puppy?" Oh, it was fine, the girls had asked. "What was her mom going to say about her buying a puppy?" Oh, it was okay because Kristen was spending her own money. Now this should have been a tip-off, because she didn't actually answer the question I asked, but I blew it and didn't make the connection. Score one for the teen-agers.

I expressed my severe doubts about the whole proposition. I didn't even say I'd think about it. But I didn't say it was out of the question. Score two for the teen-agers. They told me they'd be right back and took off around the corner of our street. I didn't think too much about it. Ten minutes later, Tori appeared at the door - sans Kristen - with a puppy in her arms. Score three for the teen-agers.

Puppy aside: This puppy was so tiny I could hardly believe it had been liberated from its mother. Obviously the product of larger dogs by it's coloring and conformation, it barely made a handful and was a slack handful at that, practically non-responsive. Apparently, because I asked, the owners had had a bunch of puppies out in the yard, in the hot sun, on sale even though they were patently too young for separation from mom. Some people are just jerks! And who sells mixed breed puppies? Worse jerks.

Well, not knowing that Kristen had purchased said puppy already, I strongly suggested that she take it back to its mother for a few more weeks. The story unraveled from there. She couldn't take it back, she couldn't take it home and she couldn't give it to her friend until later in the week. If the dog had been conscious, three pairs of doe-eyes would have been looking at me pleadingly. Score four for the teen-agers.

Honestly, I thought it was a goner already and that we were going to have a dead puppy on our hands momentarily. Had it had its shots? Shrug. What was it going to eat? Kristen would bring puppy chow. And then Kristen disappeared, because she wasn't supposed to leave the house until her mom got home from work.

I was skunked by the teen-agers hands down. We dug out the cat crate, made a bed and put the puppy in it. Hours later, she did rouse and I managed to get her to drink some milk and eat some puppy chow, but she wasn't very good at eating the chow. Tori took her into her room for the night and (very reluctantly) got up with her in the middle of the night. I spoke to her from my bed, but didn't get up. Bad mistake. The next morning I went to get her up for a long drive to Kingwood to take her Girl Scout safe boating and Red Cross swim level tests and found her asleep, a lot of very yucky puppy poop on her rug and no puppy.

Yes, you are reading correctly. No puppy. Tori didn't lock the puppy back in its crate after the middle-of-the-night potty trip. Her bedroom door had been closed all night, though, so there should have been a puppy. Looking around the horribly piled up mess in her room, I suddenly realized the puppy probably WAS there. I yelled at Tori not to move when she started to climb out of bed and began digging through piles calling the pup. I now understand what rescue workers feel like digging through rubble after a natural disaster.

Natural disaster aside: Actually, I already knew that feeling because we lost a home in a catastrophe 25 years ago. That's another story.

Tori spotted the puppy first, wedged between the bed and a pile consisting of clothes, books, broken toys, make-up and lord knows what else. Tori shifted the bed and I extracted the puppy. She literally couldn't move because she had dug herself into a hole she couldn't back out of. But the puppy was still breathing - she started crying as soon as I retrieved her.

Did I tell you this puppy was really, really young? She reminded me of about a six-month-old baby who can sit up, but not reliably, and topples over at unexpected moments. The puppy would sit down, try to scratch itself with its back leg, and roll over into a somersault. If she had to pass a drunk test, she would have gone to jail because she couldn't walk a straight line.

When I took Tori to her swim event, we saw Kristen and her mom (they are in the same Girl Scout troop). Of course, I had a long talk with Kristen's mom about the puppy - which makes me the WORST mom in the world, BTW - and, naturally, she didn't know a thing about the puppy. It's a good thing the girls were in the pool and unavailable for the next couple of hours!

The upshot of the whole event is that we kept the puppy until Sunday, when Kristen's family picked it up and returned it to the original owners. (The double jerks, remember?) I do know they got a refund. I don't want to know anything else, including where the double jerks live. Tori is depressed, dejected and miserable even though I told her over and over that we were not keeping the dog. I doubt she learned any lessons, but I had a potent reminder of the parental cardinal rule: Just say NO.


P.S. It is actually Monday now, not Saturday. We went to the Renaissance Festival yesterday and I'll try to write about that soon. It was medieval!

Tuesday, October 12, 2004

Writing Art (Punctuate That!)

Writing art. Writing, art. Writing; art. However you punctuate it, it is exciting to participate in the collaboration between a writer and a visual artist. And I am currently involved in two collaborations for the upcoming "Twists and Turns" show sponsored by WIVLA.

This morning I visited my collaborator/friend Kay Kemp ( and saw the painting she is finishing as part of our collaboration. It is just beautiful. The title - which is also the title of the meditation I wrote to go with it - is "Walk With Me." The central images are a labyrinth and a guardian. The words of the meditation are inscribed on the painting. I can't begin to do justice to the delicate, intricate detailing of this painting. I'm imagining Kay with a three-hair paintbrush in her hand! Kay teaches creative process, which is what is mostly on her website, but there is a page with some of her paintings. She is a very good teacher ... I've had the pleasure of taking one of her creativity workshops. I recommend them.

Then, this afternoon, Roberta Sajda, my other collaborator/friend, sent me a file with the digital art she has been creating for the same collaboration show. Oh, my. Another gorgeous piece of art - entirely different, soft and flowing with bold lines and lovely pastel colors. Her piece doesn't have it's final name, but the poem I wrote to accompany it is called "Singularity." I don't think Roberta has a web site displaying her art, but I hope she gets one soon so you can see what fine work she does.

I would love to share both these pieces of art and the writing, but I have to wait until after the show opens (and get permission, of course). Anyone who lives in Houston should attend the opening or stop by the venue to see the show while it's up. It is sponsored by WIVLA, which regular readers know is a great organization (Women in the Visual and Literary Arts - The show will be at the Museum of Printing History in Houston from October 21 - November 3, 2004. The opening is on October 23 at 6 PM.

FYI, I am currently reading Annie Dilliard's "An American Childhood." This is a memoir about her childhood in Pennsylvania and it is as raw and edgy as childhood, unabashed, abandoned, cuttingly honest. I really admire the work and it has made me think a lot about my own childhood - what I noticed and how it touched me, what I missed. She has some wonderful passages about the unconsciousness of childhood, about being "asleep" to the world as a child and, when you finally are awake, you've left it behind. This is not a new book. It's been on my bookshelf a long time, but I recently moved a bunch of my books into the new bookcases (see August archives) and decided to read things I haven't looked at for a long time. Annie Dilliard also wrote "Pilgrim at Tinker's Creek" and probably more stuff. I guess I'll have to check on her recent work if I'm going to tell you about her. OR, you can tell me about her if you've been reading her more recent work.


Saturday, October 09, 2004

Blogger's Block

I face a blank post box and panic sets in. What to write? What will be snappy enough, interesting enough, compelling enough to keep people reading my blog? It is like writer's block in quick-time. Writer's block occurs in private. I sit at my desk and fiddle - piles of paper need straightening, pencils needs sharpening (or, in the electronic age, the keyboard needs cleaning). I suddenly remember a burning desire to Google the results of the presidential debate to see if the pundits agreed with me that George W is a loser.

Anything will do, just as long as I can avoid sitting up straight and looking at a blank Word doc on my monitor. And I can manage to do this for a quite long time, believe me. If nothing else, there is that cheesy little "vow" I make to play Spider Solitaire just until I win ... except that I play the variety with four suits at a time and my win ratio is currently 1%. Yeah, I'll be working on that masterpiece in no time ...

The point is that no one else knows about it. Even if Michael or Tori are in the house, I can usually fake them out and look like I'm doing serious thinking just prior to writing, or serious research about my writing, or, seriously, taking a well-deserved break from the punishing work of writing. Now, when I blog, the blank post box is just a stand-in for the expectant reader. I'm looking at empty white space and seeing the impatient, bored and never-returning faces of readers who are tired of checking my blog and finding the same old stuff is STILL THERE.

It is demoralizing. I can't always be charming, thoughtful, inventive or otherwise brilliant. But I want to be. I have not been away from my blog the last few days due to blogger's block, however. No, I have been busy, busy, busy. I am working on the chapbook for the WIVLA 2004 Collaboration Art Show "Twists and Turns" which is going to open on October 23 at the Museum of Printing History. You should come. The writing is fabulous; the art work will be, too.

This is my first chapbook. Did you know that chapbooks were collections of poems and stories sold by chapmen (peddlers) wandering the countryside in merrye olde England? It's true. And now chapbooks are little books produced by people that don't have enough work (or time or a publisher) for a "real" book. Poets produce a lot of chapbooks. I don't think this is a bad idea though. As my friend Zoe reminded me Friday on the way home from writers' group (we carpool): books used to be privately produced in small quantities for friends and family and were rare and valued.

Perhaps all of us writers should be producing chapbooks of our work and sharing them around with the people we know, who, because they know we need the money, will pay us real money for the work, instead of paying a bunch of money to Bruiser Bookstore, thus triggering a chain of events that results in the author getting 40 cents. Did you know that? Did you know that when you pay $30.00 for a book at Bruiser Bookstore, the author gets CENTS, not dollars, per book? And that if you buy it from Amazon, the author gets NOTHING, not dollars?

Writers work really hard producing strings of words that amaze, astound and madden us, and they hardly make any money at all. It's a shame really. I don't say this for myself, because I can't make money. I'm disabled (it's the lupus) and if I make a penny over the limit in any given year, they will take away my Medicare. Well, needless to say, I am uninsurable in America and therefore can not get healthcare coverage at any price (except through my husband's employer, which, since he got laid off, shows you the hole in that safety net). And therefore I can't risk losing my Medicare and therefore I can't make money, etc.

So actually, I am the perfect person to be a writer. I'm pretty good with words and it's in my best interest to stay poor ... and I am the perfect person to blog, which is writing for the whole world for the sheer joy of it. Which is how I conquer blogger's block.

Now, I have to stop for tonight. I am tired - lupus tired, which is more tired than you can imagine unless you have Chronic Fatigue Syndrome. The cells of my body are tired. My forehead is getting tired from being furled. My lungs are tired from breathing. My fingers are tired from pushing keys, especially because I'm making a lot of mistakes and I keep having to go back to fix things. So I need sleep.

Ciao for now.

P.S. I wish blogspot would fix the glitch that is keeping the post statistics from posting accurately and I truly hope someone besides me reads this blog.

Saturday, October 02, 2004

Peter Pan-demonium

Peter Pan-demonium broke out at the Wortham Theatre tonight as the Houston Ballet twirled and swirled amidst special effects of all kinds. This is the second time Peter Pan - choreographed by Trey McIntyre - has been performed in Houston; it premiered two years ago. Repeating a program in two years is rather a short interlude considering all the fine ballets that we regulars would love to see performed, but looking at the full house, consisting of many families (even on a Saturday night) and seeing that they had to run an extra Saturday matinee tells the reason why.

Three weeks ago, when the Houston Ballet ( presented three smaller works with little child appeal, the audience just didn't show up in strong numbers. The programs were terrific, especially Lila York's The Celts, which I wrote about at the time. (Look in the archives for September 11.) But the organization needs box office and the story ballets that draw families mean box office. As long as that makes it possible for the Ballet to present serious, adult, or cutting edge work other times, I don't mind. If there is too much story-time ballet in one season, I get frustrated.

I have been attending the ballet for more than ten years. Well, let's count. I guess I could accurately say 13 years. Last year I did not have a season subscription and I missed it terribly. The reason I didn't is that my daughter Alix is my ballet partner and her job hours interfered. This started the previous year and I always had to find people to go to the ballet with me. That shouldn't be too hard: a free ticket and good company, too! But it got to be a drag always calling around looking for someone to attend with me and it seemed like an expensive indulgence to pay for a friend's ticket every time. So I took a pass last year and only bought tickets for programs I couldn't miss. Fortunately, they had several repeats that I didn't miss not seeing and I did get to see the new work.

I am so glad that Alix's new job allows her to have weekend's off again. I really like to spend time with her and the ballet is a shared joy for us. Tonight we took Victoria along as a special treat . See, even I am susceptible to family programming! Victoria is all jazzed about Peter Pan because one of her teen-aged heart throbs appeared in the recent movie remake. I think she was expecting him to dance out on stage tonight! She seemed disappointed when we arrived and she saw the program. Who was that old guy dancing Peter Pan? (Remember, she's 13. Old is anything over 18.) But once the lights went down, she was hooked. (Oh, did I say that? Sorry, sometimes I just can't help myself.)

The special effects were FX to the max. People flew. Stars shone all over the theater. Ships sailed. Movies rolled. Crocodiles lurked in the depths. And there were fish and mermaids! I liked the bogeymen especially well - they were creepy - and the shadow play effects. Tinkerbell's glowing appearance and then her shadow dance were very effective, as were the explosions during the third act.

The parents provided a very touching element in the performance. (I am not biased by the fact that Lauren Anderson - my very favorite ballerina - danced the Mother. She also danced the kidnapped mermaid, by the way.) The parents were portrayed in a very stiff and rigid way, wearing partial masks that kept their demeanor obscured. You could only interpret their emotions from their movements, which were very formal and very stilted. This meshed perfectly with the Victorian sentiments of the time, when parents were distant and formal with their children. I remember my own mother, whose Grandmother was a bonafide Victorian, telling me she was raised to believe that after a child was a toddler, it was not appropriate to hold them on your lap anymore.

Back to the dance. That the parents had formal and stilted choreography did not in any way mean that it was not gracefully and masterfully danced. The performers created just the atmosphere they were supposed to of loving, but remote, parents who learn, too late, how much they really love their children. And the joy they express on the children's return is much less reserved and more open, demonstrating the changes that the temporary loss of the children has caused. There were two family portraits, one in the first act and one in the third act, with the five family members. In the first act, everyone is standing and people are not really touching each other or interacting. In the third act, the mother is sitting, the children cluster around her, the father has his hand on someone's shoulder. It's just a very different feeling. Which, I think, is what the choreographer intended.

Wendy also has a family portrait in the third act - with her future husband and child. That moment touched me quite a bit, admittedly maybe in a knee-jerk way, but I got teary. Just a nicely done performance.

Couple of side notes. One: J. M. Barrie wrote Peter Pan. He was an Englishman from the late 19th - early 20th century (1860-1937). He also wrote the play The Admirable Crighton, among many other things, and I wrote the book for an adaptation of Crighton as part of a musical theater collaboration class two years ago. Had a great deal of fun with it although we never got to the point of actually taking it on the road. We did do a local performance at the University of Houston, though.

Side note two: At the beginning of the ballet, the Darlings have 4 children, including baby Peter. He falls out of his crib and is accidentally swept away with the garbage, later to appear as Peter Pan. It is an odd storyline, don't you think? I think so and I have tried to think of reasons for it. So here are my top three. 1) It's just a quirky story that adds to the fun. 2) It's a reflection (criticism) of Victorianism in that parents could be so distant from their children that they wouldn't notice one gone missing. 3) It's a reflection of the high infant mortality rate of the times and Peter represents the "lost" child in an all too sad way.

So there you have. Peter Pan-demonium and my opinion of it all.


Friday, October 01, 2004

In Praise of the Trick-Cyclist

In Paul Scott's book quadrology, "The Raj Quartet," his characters have several conversations about the "trick-cyclists." This is a reference to psychiatrists, ala 1943. I had never heard the term before; however, a little Internet research informs me that it is Cockney rhyming slang from the style in use since the 17th century. Which accounts for why I found an online study group for psychiatrists using Trick-cyclist as its name. The lists of Cockney rhymes were fun and I recommend them to you at .

Back to the trick-cyclists. I have one, Dr. M. He's great. If you have lupus, you need a trick-cyclist to help you deal with the central nervous system (CNS) symptoms it causes. As a writer and inveterate crossword-puzzler, my brain is keenly important to me and sometimes the lupus interferes with my cognition in very specific ways. In "lupin" circles, we call this "fog." It is kind of like having your brain wrapped in cotton, muffled. One year, when I was very ill, I missed a whole quarter. When I got sick, it was winter and then, one day, I noticed that the trees had new leaves and the Astros were in spring training. That is so depressing.

Depression is another good reason for seeing a trick-cyclist. In lupus, the depression gets you in more than one way. First, it's organic, or caused by the disease process. Second, your life is depressing due to the effects of your illness on you and on your family. In my own case, I had to give up my business career - which I loved and which I had great success in. Giving up my career meant giving up our large home and moving into a much smaller one. (Well, the fact that I couldn't climb the stairs anymore either did add to the need to sell the big house.) It snowballs. I have had to give up roller coasters, too, for example. After the third fractured vertebrae, my husband just drew the line. I still love rollercoasters, though.

I am not complaining. Especially not now. Ten years ago, I didn't walk independently and I am able to walk now, thanks to several years of water aerobics to strengthen my muscles and also thanks to Victoria. I had to shape up enough to watch her, after all. Many people don't know that I have lupus. I look perfectly healthy to the untrained eye. This is typical of lupins. Partly, it is because I don't go out when I am not feeling well. Partly it is because lupus mainly affects internal organs and tissues, causing lots of pain and fatigue, but not necessarily external manifestations. Lupus arthritis, for example, is non-deforming arthritis, which means it hurts like hell but doesn't twist your bones the way rheumatoid arthritis does.

It's a tricky disease. And that's a good tie-in to my trick-cyclist friend.


Monday, September 27, 2004

This is the Week That Was

Remember that old television show? It always started with an announcer broadcasting in a booming voice: "This is the week that was." I never knew what part of that announcement actually represented the title of the show. I can't even remember the show very well. Michael tells me it was a satirical take-off on the news imported from (or ripped off from) the BBC in the late 60s or early 70s. Hard to believe I even recognize it, then, because I didn't have a television set for most of 1968 to 1972, which were my undergraduate years.

I think of it tonight because I have had quite a busy week. Busy and fun. Would it be too boring to run down the highlights? Probably. Is this my blog and I can do anything I want? Definitely. So, just to let you know I was not goofing off and thus neglecting my blog, I will share a little of a week in my life.

Last Monday didn't amount to much. I worked on restoring the house to normalcy, something I always have to do after the weekend. It is getting a little harder to discern normal from abnormal, though, because having Michael here throws me off in small, but noticeable, ways. I feel "observed" and awkward about what would otherwise be routine. Not his fault by any means. He pretty much keeps his head down and works on the job hunt, but I feel I should include him or acknowledge him about things, whereas before I would just do what I wanted or needed to as my day developed.

Monday night, after dinner, we had to go to IKEA because we had previously purchased the incorrect frame for our new desks and they had to be exchanged. Going to IKEA when you're in the right mood can be a kind of cheap date - fun without much expense if you're just window shopping. This wasn't actually expensive because we were doing an even exchange, but it turned out to be seriously annoying. There were very many IKEA employees and very few IKEA customers, yet getting service proved difficult. Their apple crumb cake (found in the snack bar in the Houston store) is very yummy and cheap at $1.25 a slice. We did enjoy that.

Tuesday, the cable guy came by to move our cable modem to the new location. (We are flipping the office and the cozy corner - a big project that has been underway for a while and included building shelves, etc. in the old cozy corner. See my archives for more.) We expected him to install the outlet and when we were ready, we would move the actual cable modem. Hah!! When you install the outlet, the cable modem has to be moved immediately. He explained why and I understood it, but it's not worth repeating. Bottom line, we had no cable in the office where our computer's were. Quickly assembling the desks and using my laptop computer proved to be a short term solution, which is good because Victoria had a dentist appointment that afternoon and I had a WIVLA meeting to attend early evening.

Check out to find out about this unique organization I belong to. WIVLA stands for Women in the Visual and Literary Arts.

Victoria had no cavities and the meeting went well, too. My friend Joanna presented a program on designing and building your own website that was fabulously instructive. You can find Joanna at . As always, we had wonderful conversations and high energy around art and literary topics. My friend Bertie attended with me and I took a new friend, Jane, along, so we had lively conversation to and fro as well.

Wednesday, I spent hours at the dentist myself on my second round of abscessed tooth relief. The aftermath hurt like the dickens, though, and I felt thoroughly miserable Wednesday night, Thursday and into Friday. But let's concentrate on Thursday. Michael isn't home for dinner on Thursday nights because he dines with a group of men friends every week, so Victoria and I have kind of girls' night out, although I don't think we were very festive that night. We made quesadillas at home and I worked on some writing I needed to have ready for my writers' group meeting on Friday morning.

I belong to the Friday Morning Writers' Group. We've been meeting for 7 or 8 years, it escapes me now, and the group is composed of excellent writers who give very good critiques. I love them dearly. I think they are my most devoted fans. They have certainly helped me polish a lot of writing. On the way home from that meeting, I stopped at Sam's and bought a few groceries. (That's a joke. Get it? No one can buy a few groceries at Sam's!) The point of the groceries is that we have to adjust our cooking now that Michael is not working.

For the past several months, we have been preparing meals at the Village Table, a place with a smart idea for making feeding yourself easy and delicious. You go there once a month and in two hours prepare (if you're a small family like us) 22-24 meals for the month to put in the freezer and cook later. We have been eating so well and enjoying such hassle-free lives in regard to groceries and food preparation, but there is a cost and we felt we couldn't spend the money any longer. But we wanted to continue the idea, so we are preparing 4 identical main dishes every time we cook and freezing 3 of them. So far, we've made meat loaf and baked ziti (of course, it's not baked yet, just frozen). And we've pre-packaged meal-sized portions of pork and chicken for the grill. It's working so far.

Friday night, Victoria had a Girl Scout meeting and Michael and I had to watch the season premiere of "Joan of Arcadia" which is our favorite television show. And we had to watch the "Andromeda" premiere, too, but we missed the early show and consequently had to stay up until midnight to see it.

Saturday, we went to Sam and Howard's 20th wedding anniversary. Sam throws a terrific party. The food tasted fabulous: Thai pumpkin soup, egg drop soup, curried chicken salad, spring rolls, crab quiche, poppy seed cake, brownies and another cake I didn't taste. Sam prepared everything except the spring rolls. The Thai pumpkin soup tasted especially terrific.

On our way home from there, we stopped in for a nightcap at Faye and Bill's. What a lively conversation! We touched on everything from "The Raj Quartet" to book publishing and ate Hagen Daz ice cream to boot. Saturday turned out great. And I wore the DRESS. Boy did I get compliments on it. Made me feel so proud of myself. Michael took a photo and when it's printed I'll post it. (Don't hold your breath, it's not a digital photo.)

Sunday I went to church and later I finished reading "The Raj Quartet." I love those books. Paul Scott (the author) has really written about 2000 pages of poetry. I marked several passages to write down later, but one of them just sticks with me: " ... and drops of rain strung from trees to dry." I can see those raindrops, I can see the clothesline, I can see the sun beating down to dry them out. The whole book is so well-written, as you've heard me say in previous posts. The ending is sad because the end of the British raj in India had so much violence and bloodshed attached to it. But the way Scott told the stories is just beautiful and I am so glad Teri gave me this book to read.

Also on Sunday, I had to interview someone for the monthly member profile I write for the WIVLA newsletter and get that into shape and submitted. I interviewed an artist who intrigued me so much that after we talked I checked out her art on the internet. So gorgeous. She paints the indigenous peoples of Mexico with astonishing authenticity and respect. You can see her art by looking at and then searching the artists galleries for Kay Sarver.

Now it's Monday. I slept in until 11 AM out of sheer exhaustion from last week. I do have lupus, you know, and I just don't hold up well. Then I had more organizational stuff to do for WIVLA. I went grocery shopping in the afternoon. And here I am. I am caught up. And you can see the kind of life I lead. It's busy and invigorating, even if only in small ways, and it makes me happy.


Monday, September 20, 2004

Sewing Machine Woman Strikes Again

It is a dress! I am so pleased by the outcome of my fabric dyeing project: an actual dress I can wear that, although quirky, looks good on me.

I picked up the pattern last Tuesday at Joanns on a kamikaze run in and out of the store while going to meet Roberta to talk about our collaboration for the upcoming WIVLA show. (See for more info.) I knew what I wanted - something with a scooped neck that I could wear the macrame necklace with (see my August archives for more on that) -and I didn't even have to open a pattern book to find it because it was on their revolving rack of cheap patterns. (That is a blessing in itself, as patterns have become VERY expensive these days.) I grabbed a matching zipper and thread on my way out.

I dread putting in zippers. I do know how, but have this sense they will be difficult and I will mess them up. In fact, in a very real sense, I dread sewing altogether. My mother is an exquisite seamstress. She is 82 and doesn't sew as much now, but one of the most lasting memories I will have of my mother is her bent over her machine. She loves to sew. And she is just so good at it. When I was a little girl, she made me a red plaid, wool overcoat with a lining that had every line of plaid matching at every seam. If you sew, you know that is extraordinary. If you don't sew, I probably can't convey the difficulty to you. You have to be able to envision the finished product when selecting the placement of pattern pieces on the uncut cloth. It's amazing and I know couldn't do it.

She made both my prom dresses. One year, we had a half day holiday and when I got home at lunch time, she had cut the fabric, sewed the formal, and was ready to mark the hem. We never worried too much about fitting, because Mother always got it right, even mailing me clothes that fit perfectly after I was long grown and gone. Now, when your mother can make a formal from start to finish between 8 AM and 12 noon while attending to younger children and the home duties of a mother of seven, it is a little daunting to learn to sew. Eventually, I did learn enough to be competent, but not confident.

I don't sew very often and it's mostly stuff for the house like curtains and pillow covers. Sometimes clothes for a child, but not even that for years. I like to do embroidery, both floss and silk ribbon, and I crochet, but I'm not too regular with those skills either, tending to feast or famine in terms of my interest and production. Honestly, I don't remember the last time I sewed myself an article of clothing. Many, many years. I have embellished a lot of sweatshirts, tee-shirts, etc, but actual sewing from start to finish, probably 10 or 12 years.

My fabulously hand-dyed fabric has changed all that for the moment. (Thanks again, Peggy, for your surface design lessons and your time.) On Saturday I cut the pattern out and on Sunday I constructed it. Today I finished it. These things are not as straightforward as they sound, though. I hated to cut the fabric in case I should make a mistake and ruin it forever. The dress I wanted was cut too long and I had to adjust the pattern. What if I screwed that up? The pattern cautioned about measuring the bust and waist carefully because the dress fits snugly and I worried about that a lot. Experience tells me that patterns are "big" and that you should take their measurements with a grain of salt, but I hadn't sewn in so long that I didn't trust my own judgment. Finally, I decided to cut the larger size (that matched my exact measurements).

Sewing it challenged me, too, not because I don't know how, but because I don't do this often enough to remember the little glitches on my machine or which foot is the zipper foot - little things that add up to big time losses if you have to keep starting and stopping. I had to take out a seam because I forgot to change the stitch setting from basting to sewing. My zipper actually went in almost perfectly, but somehow, the top of the dress is off by 1/8th of an inch. The topstitching on the neck facing didn't catch the fabric all the way around and I had to do two rows. Glitches like that which wouldn't even come up (probably) if I sewed regularly because I would be in practice.

The biggest mistake I made was cutting the larger size. The bosom turned out too big and the straps kept slipping off my shoulders; the snug fit just wasn't as form-fittingly flattering as it should have been. So I dug into my mental sewing kit and figured out how to fix it. Michael marked the fabric for me (had to take a dart under the arm and down the side seam, a hard place to put pins into by yourself!) and I fixed it. Really, it looks great. You wouldn't know I had had to fix it. The hem is just slightly diagonal, hanging a hair longer on the left side, but it fits nicely with the flirty hem-lines currently en vogue,so I'm not counting that as a mistake.

To get the final fitting right, I got dressed in the proper foundation garments and shoes for the dress and put it on with the macrame necklace. It looked very pretty. The fabric is soft and the colors look like the prettiest sunset you ever saw, but I felt surprisingly exposed with my shoulders bare, my waist hugged by fabric, my collarbone and sternum on display, and my knees peeking out. I feel like I am too old to be flaunting myself like this. I might be slim, but I am not a taut young girl anymore and I don't want to be one of those middle aged women who looks ridiculous because she's dressing too young. That said, I found a lovely off-white, fringed silk shawl that is big enough to go over my shoulders and tie behind my back - so that it makes kind of a tiny jacket in the front - and put that on. Perfectamente! It is exquisite.

My friend Sam is having a big party Friday for her 20th wedding anniversary, so I shall wear it there. I'll post a photo if I can get my husband to take one, but not today, I have already peeled off my stockings and foundation garments ...

Sunday, September 19, 2004

Gamers Should Like This

Your Superhero Persona
by couplandesque
Your Name
Superhero NameSleep Apnea Woman
Super PowerAbility To Fly
EnemyThe Disgruntled Mailman
Mode Of TransportationMotorcycle
Quiz created with MemeGen!

Saturday, September 18, 2004

Teeth, Computers and Baseball

It's a mixed bag tonight. Let's start here: What do teeth and computers have in common? They're both so ubiquitous that you don't think about them until they start hurting, and then it's probably too late! This comes to mind because I developed a toothache Wednesday evening. Thursday morning, I knew I had something seriously wrong and called the dentist, who ordered me up an antibiotic and scheduled me to come in Friday morning. By Thursday night it hurt so bad I just felt like banging my face against the furniture. The affected tooth is one of my lower front teeth, apparently perfectly good, never had a cavity or anything; however, even though I am a good brusher, my flossing isn't up to par and I immediately began castigating myself for poor oral hygiene as the root of my problem. ( And yes, I did just commit a terrible pun ... )

Fortunately, since I have a serious chronic illness, I also have pain meds on hand, so I downed a couple of whatevers and went to bed until Friday morning arrived. (There's a paradox in the last statement. Can you find it?) The dentist, a rather large, imposing man who has the demeanor of a drill sergeant (I am SO sorry, this stuff keeps coming out ... it must be the drugs), leaned over me ominously with his drill in hand and said, "You won't need any novocaine for this one, it's already dead." Apparently I blanched at the mere prospect, because he quickly added, "If it hurts at all, I'll stop." That is the nicest thing Dr. Sanders has ever said to me in five years as my dentist.

When the drill started its torturous, whirring, baby-buzzsaw noise, my skin got goosebumps all over and I could just feel the pain waiting around the bend for me. But he told the truth; it didn't hurt a bit. I had a preliminary root canal - preliminary because with a raging infection there seem to be limits to how safe it is to poke around inside a person - and I have to go back for more work next week. I felt so much better after he finished that first part, though, because the awful pressure of the bottled up infection was relieved. I will not bore or disgust you with dental details, but I do wonder why people say "root canal" with such dread? It didn't hurt and, in fact, made me feel very much better.

Now, how does this get us to computers? On Thursday, when I felt really awful and didn't want to cope with anything, I discovered that the 13 year-old's computer was running really slowly and seemed gummed up. The giant grinning boy-band lead singer pasted on her screen as wallpaper probably didn't help, but even after I removed him, the computer plugged along like something from the Dark Ages. A few questions led to answers I didn't like, such as "chat rooms" and "porn that keeps popping up," so I pulled the plug on the machine and decided to tackle it after the dentist on Friday, while Tori was away at school.

I accept the blame for this state of affairs with her computer. I ran a "protection" program when she got the computer for her birthday in July, but forgot to renew it when the trial period ended in August. And I guess she didn't want to tell me it had expired, because I had installed a lot of limits on how much time she could use it, etc., and life had become immeasurably more interesting after the blocks came off. But, as you can imagine, she managed to acquire not only some questionable websites, but a lot of spyware and other malicious junk. It took me hours to fix her computer.

First, I ran Ad-Aware and Spy-bot, and, yes, I did give the Spy-bot man a donation. (Thank you for your wonderful program.) Between the two of them, they removed 357 bad things from her computer and inoculated her against another 2238. Then I purged her temporary files and cookies and ran both programs again just to be sure. Next, I installed CyberSitter. I had tried CyberPatrol, but CyberSitter is much easier to use and more functional in my opinion. If I change my mind on that, I'll let you know. So now her computer is running like a charm. It's quick and loads up in a flash. If you Google on one of the "bad" words I blocked, the web page just comes up blank. And best of all, it SNOOPS and REPORTS. Perhaps this is an invasion of privacy, but, as a mature woman, I claim my right to invade the privacy of all children I am responsible for in order to preserve their welfare. After seeing what she managed to look at with her privacy intact, I have no qualms at all.

I remember reading an article about kids and porn that said something like "Most parents don't think their kid will look at it. And they are wrong." Well, that was Michael and me. We had the "safety talk" and thought she would follow our guidance. Hah! So, if you have a teen with an unprotected computer, I guarantee you that the kid has or will find a porn site or two and look at them. Even if they don't set out to do it, the porn perpetrators are so malicious that they sneak their crap into places where kids can't miss it. Examples: if you spell wrong, you will get a porn site. If you type in White House and forget to use .gov, you will get a porn site. Tori found her first porn site when she misspelled Yahoo. I happened to be in the room for that one. She was 11 at the time and she literally got up and ran away from the computer. Two years and one puberty later, she's not running away anymore.

Well, we've covered toothaches and computers. How about baseball? Tonight, Tori's choir sang the national anthem at the Houston Astro's baseball game. (She sings in the Houston city-wide Girl Scout choir, TakeNote.) It was really neat seeing her face tower over me on the Jumbotron! Of course, we couldn't see the real her because the choir was on the field right by home plate and our seats were at the farthest possible distance away above center field. (Actually, we couldn't see the Jumbotron, either, because we were sitting under it, but I got up and found a good spot to watch from before they sang.) I took pictures of the Jumbotron and, if anything turns out, I'll put it up for all to see. There was one really good shot of her that almost filled the screen and I hope I got that one. Don't hold your breath waiting, though, because it's real film, not digital, and a new roll at that, so I have to shoot a bunch more pics and get them developed before you have a shot at seeing it. (See, there's that pun thing again. I really think it's the drugs I'm taking for this toothache.)

By the way (or BTW as I probably should be saying), we have a dental/vision/drug discount card that we continued to pay for even after we had Michael's work insurance because it reduced our dental costs a lot. I used it for my antibiotic purchase and here's the result: A 10-day supply of generic antibiotic cost $44 before discount card and $14 after. I am thankful for the saved $30, believe me, but what in the world is wrong with this picture???? Our American health care system is so messed up I fear for us all.

Ciao for now.

Friday, September 17, 2004

The World According to Alix

I am about to write another essay - really - but I'm in the middle of a gruesome job (cleaning crap off my teenager's computer) so in the meantime, here is my daughter Alix's blog.

Thursday, September 16, 2004

Another link to journals and weblogs for the adventurous to investigate.

Hot Flashes - The Menopause 'Burb

This is a great location to find other fascinating blogs. The fact that it's (mostly) written by menopausal women says something about how interesting we are, don't you think?

Horses Doing Four Part Harmony Acappella

Click on each horse to see it perform; the more horses you click on, the more harmony you get. Thx to Sharman for sending me this site.

Wednesday, September 15, 2004

Exhibit B: The Cozy Corner after Michael installed the new storage units. See "Moby Dick: The Great White Wall" post. Posted by Hello

Exhibit A: The Cozy Corner before Michael built the new storage unit. Posted by Hello

Could it be prettier? I hate to cut it, but the dress will be wonderful. For details on how I dyed this luscious piece, see my August posts. The titles are fairly obvious. Posted by Hello

Mother's Day at the zoo, she is lost in her journal. The smitten photographer captures her straw hat and ruby lipstick before the moment perishes. Later, she is surprised. Posted by Hello

Tuesday, September 14, 2004

Moby Dick: The Great White Wall

Okay, it's actually "Natural Linen" instead of white, but the wall got finished over Labor Day weekend and circumstances kept me from describing the process. To start with, Michael got the idea months ago to build in bookshelves, a window seat and a display shelf around the windows in our Cozy Corner (in other homes perhaps a dining room, but in ours a place to read or escape). That window is large and has four beautiful stained glass windows in it.

Window Aside: The windows were custom-made in 1990 for our previous home in Houston using matched windows imported from England as their centers. Each pane features a richly colored red tulip with green leaves in kind of an art deco effect. The panes hang two across and two down. We installed track lighting to make them more visible at night, but after doing that realized the lighting would have to be outdoors shining in for us to get the benefit! So we give our neighbors a lovely view whenever we turn on the track lights. And the cats sometimes get behind the panes, which is a problem if they are startled and jump off the window ledge - the windows swing back and forth alarmingly.

Back to the built-ins. Michael conceived this idea but, in all honesty, he is not a carpenter and most of his projects are things for the garage or backyard, not the interior of our house. Despite his doubts and limitations, he gamely undertook the project last winter, telling me that if it didn't turn out, we'd go shopping at IKEA. I promised to paint it if it ever got built. (I am in charge of all indoor painting and Michael is in charge of all outdoor painting.) There were many starts and stalls and bad language along the way. Sometimes he just ignored it for a couple of weeks. After a couple of months, the inside of the house started looking a little ratty because things were put in storage, but then slowly leaked back out as they were needed and turned into clutter. And it's possible I used the mess as an excuse to lower my cleaning standards ... I'm not admitting that, though.

There seemed to be a point of utter chaos around this project and then a sudden, miraculous convergence when it started looking like a built-in wall unit. Michael decided he would use some vacation days to finish it over Labor Day weekend. And that is what happened. His final effort was building a bridge between the two bookcases. Then we painted everything with the same lovely enamel paint I used for the woodwork the last time I did interior painting, assembled it against the wall and installed molding across the top and at the bottom to complete the "built-in" look. Oh, and I caulked a few joints and touched them up. Voila! It looks fabulous. Michael is amazed, but I'm not. I knew he would accomplish it because he is very determined and dogged when he makes a commitment.

I have a collection of ewers from all over the US. Hunting for unique pottery is one of my favorite vacation pastimes. I only buy a pitcher if it is very unusual, complements my other pieces and has been a joy to acquire. I currently have eleven; I add one every year or two. They have been crowded on a long windowsill in my kitchen, but have now found a new home atop the bridge over the window in the Cozy Corner. And they look so pretty there - it's spacious and each one has room to stand out and show off it's special attributes. And, importantly, they are safe there. My friend Tom Perry threw one of my ewers. (It has a lovely sea-green and lavendar finish and a special little touch on the spout that would make me love it even if Tom hadn't made it.) And last year, Tori had an accident with the mini-blinds that broke the spout. I cobbled it back together, but I really felt badly about it and Tori did, too. So now they are all safe from mini-blinds, kids, cats and the ordinary vicissitudes of life.

Thank you, Michael, for having enough faith in yourself to undertake building Moby Dick: The Great White Wall. Maybe the pergola in the backyard is next ...

Oh, a note about Tom Perry. He is currently an artist in residence at the Houston Center for Contemporary Craft and you can see him at work or buy one of his pieces there. Their website is

Monday, September 13, 2004

Perking Up Is Not Just for Coffee

Can't keep dragging. Several friends have offered good suggestions for how to get out of the drug problem (that doesn't sound right, but see previous post to clarify) and I am going to look into them. The reality is that we will probably scrape the money together to buy the COBRA continuation insurance as long as we can afford to and hope that Michael finds work soon.

Here's a plug for Michael: He is a fine writer and editor with excellent experience and good references. He has worked in a variety of industries, so his outlook is broad. He has two degrees - a BS in Professional Writing and a BA in History. He edited a national bi-monthly magazine for a large corporation. HE CAN WRITE ANYTHING.

If you have any contacts for a job (preferably in Houston, buy, hey, we're flexible) let me know.

It is nice to have Michael across the desk from me for the time being. Before, he and Tori (the 13 year old) would leave at 7:00 AM for work and school, and I would spend most days alone except for incidental contacts. That is not so bad for a writer, of course. I need to be alone to do my work. But the company is nice. Nicer yet would be to find a way to spend time with him and make money ... that's worth thinking about. The down side of having him at home is that I can't be a slouch - he knows if I'm working or not!!!