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.