Saturday, December 27, 2008


Yesterday I flew to North Carolina to spend, ummm, Christmas with my family. We're not christians, but we celebrate anyway. Or maybe some of my family are, but mostly not. Anyway, I was to fly thru Dallas Fort Worth, and due to airline weirdness, I ended up flying out an hour earlier than expected...

Which was great, because, although Austin's airport is pretty cool and has only local food (no chains... You cannot get MacDonald's at the Austin airport!) the DFW airport has - a wine bar! It's in Terminal A (ok, there's one in D, too, I think) and I was hoping that I'd be able to find it.

Sure enough I landed at gate A 19, La Bodega Wine Bar is at A 15, and I was leaving for RDU from gate A 14. I could drink and not have to worry about missing my plane. I figured that fate was telling me to sit down and have a drink, and you just shouldn't argue with fate...

So I sat down and ordered a glass of La Bodega's Cabernet Sauvignon. This wine bar makes it's own wine... Or rather there's a winery and if you want to sample their wine, you have to go to this wine bar. And they make a damn fine Cab, IMHO. It's a very tiny bar, maybe seats 8, 9 people. There's a little side area where they sell wine/liquor tchotchkes but, all in all, it's highly intimate. Plus you're in a bar in an airport, and what's the likelihood you're going to see any of the people at the bar again? So people tend to start talking - ok, people tend to start talking when I'm around anyway - and tell things about themselves that they probably just wouldn't share with the average person they'd known for five minutes...

Yesterday I shared the bar with an Air Force colonel getting ready to deploy to Iraq in January and an unmarried couple just back from a seven-day vacation. There were other people, too, further down, but they were talking amongst themselves. And then there was the bartender, Harrison.

Somehow within five minutes we were talking about marriages. The colonel had a failed, seventeen year marriage behind him and was trying to get engaged to someone that very day, but she wasn't returning his calls because he'd done something wrong. I owned up to having two exes. The couple weren't married. Harrison has three ex-wives. Like I said, I'm not even through my first glass of wine and I know a lot of stuff about these people!

The lady of the couple handed the colonel The 7 Principles of Making Marriage Work, and he told her about The Five Love Languages. The latter is pretty religious, I find, from looking at the website, but the little quiz is kinda neat. I found it interesting that both the books had numbers in their titles. I'm sure there's some theory about self-help books needing finite numbers of things to do to fix your life. SMALL finite numbers. Like you wouldn't really want to read The Four Thousand Six Hundred and Seventy Three things to Make Your Marriage Really Rock.

And the colonel, bless his heart, didn't take the book. No, after the couple left, he handed it to me.

I'm hoping that's not some kind of a sign...

Friday, December 26, 2008

Post party

My Christmas Eve party went just fine. I had too much lasagne left over and too little salad, but that was my grandkid's fault. They'd been to another party beforehand where they'd eaten seven something really rich (donuts? pieces of cake or pie? cookies?) and didn't want lasagne; they only wanted salad. But I had enough wine (very important!), firewood for the chimnea, and Christmas cookies.

Ok, it's probably not fair to call them Christmas cookies, since I make them for Valentines, Easter, and every other holiday that requires cookies, but that's what they're called. It's my grandmother's recipe and my Mom made tons of 'em every year (twelve batches, usually, for xmas). I started making batches even before I had kids, but it sort of amped up when they came along, and then, when Mom died, I inherited some of her cookie people, so now I'm making twelve batches. When you make this many cookies, you collect a LOT of cookie cutters. A LOT. Stars, hearts, conifers (what people who do not run tree lots probably think of as pine trees, when, of course, they're usually fir trees), alphabets, dinosaurs, chickens, eggs, cats, guitars, Texas, musical notes and probably some more that I can't remember without going and looking at 'em all... The Christmas batch has always been: stars, hearts, conifers, and Texas, with occasionally some cats thrown in.

This year, when I was at the hand surgeon's, I saw one of those women's family magazines and it had polar bear cookies on the cover. Polar bears! I've never seen polar bear cookie cutters, but immediately went on a hunt, right after the doctor's appointment, mostly 'cos I was up near Williams Sonoma/Crate & Barrel/Whole Foods. None of 'em had polar bears.

So I went online. The Cookie Cutter Shop online had the best deal between prices and shipping. Unfortunately they also have 700 cookie cutters, so I didn't just get a polar bear. No! I got a lovely penguin and a beautiful cardinal, as well...

Sorry, all the penguins have left the building...

Making twelve batches of cookies requires that you have a cookie decorating party. You mix up a shitload of the 'frosting' (powdered sugar, salt, vanilla and water), get out your food coloring (I use the concentrated ones from Michael's as well as the ol' regular ones from the grocery store), a bunch of small containers and spoons and invite your kids, grandkids, and friends over. You cover your table top with plastic, put the cookies on wire racks and go to town. In our case, eggnog and Maker's Mark are involved for non-pregnant adults. It still takes hours... But it's hours of fun. You have to have non-sweet things to eat, too.

Then all you have to package everything up and start sending it off.

Here's the cookie recipe.

1 cup butter
1 cup sugar
2 eggs
1 teaspoon vanilla
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
3 1/2 cups flour (low protein)

Now, just a word about baking cookies for those of you who haven't taken chemistry or didn't have a grandmother who baked. You want your butter at about 65 degrees, so you take it out of the fridge and let it approach room temp but not quite get there. You cream it with the beater attachment after cutting it into 1/2 inch squares. Add the sugar and beat, scraping the sides of the bowl. You're incorporating air into the butter. Add the vanilla, and beat. Add the eggs, one at a time, and beat. By now it should be a light and fluffy mixture. Then start adding in the flour. Low protein flour is good for cookies and pie crusts; high protein flour is good for bread. If you only have high protein flour, you can substitute a half cup of corn starch for a half cup of flour. Use the dough attachment to incorporate the flour. Beat until just incorporated. Get out a sheet of wax paper about 15 inches long and put the dough on it in a long roll and refrigerate overnight. Roll out to 1/4 inch thick, cut with your fabulous cookie cutters, and bake in a pre-heated 375 oven until they just start to brown on ungreased cookie sheets. Allow to cool and frost.

The Maker's Mark helps.

Monday, December 22, 2008

How green can you be?

Ok. I don't normally post photos of toilets on my blog. Heck, I don't normally post photos of toilets on anyone's blog, but today I was at the new UFCU branch in Austin. It is VERY proud of how green it is, with rainwater harvesting and optimal solar placement and lord knows whatall.

And, in the bathroom is one of those new 'dual flush' toilets... You know, the ones with different amounts of water for, ummm, number 1 and number 2? And that's cool, and it's cool that it's filled with rainwater, but do people really drink out of toilets?

Maybe the sign is for dogs.

Sunday, December 14, 2008

the economic downturn

Well, you couldn't prove it by the tree lot this year. It's doing fabulously. Running a tree lot in Texas is always a crap shoot. Essentially it depends on the weather, most particularly the weather on the weekends.

If it is cool and dry on the weekends, the tree lot does well. If it is cool and damp - say a fog or light drizzle - less well; hot and dry, even less well; and cold and wet, not well at all. There's also a lot of variations on how long the 'season' is, depending on when Thanksgiving falls, because our tree lot, which is the oldest tree lot in Texas, if not the world (we started selling trees in 1951 or '52), opens the day after Thanksgiving. The Tree Lot, no matter what will NOT open before Thanksgiving, and certainly not just after Halloween, which is when some people think the Christmas season begins these days. (Can you hear the 'sniff!' that accompanies that?)

So this year was a short season. We were somewhat helped, I do believe, by the UT/A&M game being played on Thanksgiving, instead of the day after (our opening day), and probably by the fact that Texas positively trounced A&M this year. Usually opening weekend is kind of slow, which gives us time to 'open up' the trees, which are shipped bundled up, wrapped in a gazillion miles of polymer twine. You have to slit the twine, pull the tree upright, and somehow shake it out, to get the branches to drop into a normal position. Then you have to tie it up to a line, so it won't fall over on anyone.

Some of these trees are really big, 9' - 10' tall, and they weigh a ton, and cost a fortune. Essentially the bigger the tree, the more it costs by a geometric factor. So the smaller trees are quite reasonable: you can pick 'em up, you can afford them and they will fit in a house. The bigger ones take two people or three to pick up and carry. You gotta have a pretty big room to put them in, and I'm always happy to meet people who can pay for 'em.

Last year, the big trees, which normally sell out really fast, moved very, very slowly. That was highly disturbing, because we have the most money tied up in them. So this year, I put on my magic prognosticating hat, got a glass of wine, and decided I would order the same number of trees as last year, but smaller trees. We'd make less profit, 'cos there's less mark up on the small trees, but people would be able to afford them. And, we'd keep our prices the same as last year.

My tree suppliers were quite compliant and sold me the trees for the same price as last year. Actually they probably made a bit more money, 'cos gasoline was down, although diesel was not down as much as regular gas. And, I could use last year's price cards! I checked with the Board of the charity, and they agreed on my strategy.

So, we were wrong. The trees, wreaths, garland and tree stands flew off the lot. The big trees flew off the lot. By the beginning of last week, I was having to order more trees. Not tons more, but a few hundred. What happened? Well, we had nice cool weekends, dry for the most part. But that couldn't be all of it.

I also noticed that people were using credit cards more. Last year it was 40/40/20: 40% check, 40% credit card, and 20% cash. This year it's 80/10/5, that being 80% credit card, 10% cash and 5% check. Weird to have such a sea change in spending habits in one year. Now some of these may be debit cards, but we don't do the debit thing, and just run it all as charge. It's more expensive, but easier, and our cashiers are untrained volunteers, so we use the KISS principle.

So are folks in Texas ignoring all the warnings to pay off credit cards instead of charging on them? Are they just more optimistic than the rest of the nation? Is our economy more insulated? Are we just in denial?

My guess is that it's a bit of all four. People around here talk about how our real estate market is strong, but I think that's baloney. It's not moribund, but houses that would have been snapped up in a day or two eighteen months ago are sitting unsold for months. All the fancy pants high rise condos that are being built downtown are now exploring the option of 'leasing!' Fancy that!

Whatever it is, I'm glad people are buying trees.

Friday, December 12, 2008

winter light

Me on right with my friend, Andy.

Yes, Roz is right, I don't quite understand snow. Ok so I WAS born in Michigan (shhhh, it's a secret!) and I have adorable pictures of me in a snowsuit. I quit understanding snow the year I lived in South Dakota/northern Nebraska, when it was 117 on the Fourth of July and -42 in December. Admittedly, there wasn't that much snow involved in the whole process, because it doesn't rain out there very often... But still, snow and my brain just sort of did a disconnect, which was reinforced when I lived in Madison, Wisconsin the next winter...

But winter light is winter light and I love it. I try to analyze light. I think about it: would I know that this was December if there were no other external clues, just the light? I think the answer is yes, because here in Texas at least - where we do have palm trees, although they don't really sway - the other clues are highly changeable. It can be warm or it can be cold, but the light is that sort of weak, lemony, but kind of harsh light... Raking light from the angle of the sun.

This week it has been cold - a couple days - and warm... Also a couple of days. And today was a warmish one... Mid sixties. I went for a walk late afternoon. I went to the Golden Slipper, my local shoe repair shop. "When do you want 'em?" the guy asked me. "Umm, today?" I replied. After all, it was my favorite pair of Børn Cardinal boots. I wear 'em at the tree lot. It's part of my high fashion lumberjack look. He said he could have 'em ready by five. I said that was cool 'cos I needed to go to Farm to Market Grocery (Look for the radish!) on South Congress. So I walked there, enjoying my neighborhood and the fall colors of the leaves, and the neighborhood goat.

After I shopped at Farm to Market, I went next door and ate dinner at Woodland. Ok, it was a bit early, but it was happy hour, so I had the white bean and sausage soup with a glass of Malbec. And damn, I missed not having my journal with me! After the mugging, when I go shopping, I take just a bag and a credit card or $$$ in my pocket, but NOT my purse. So I didn't have a journal, and I was hard up.

I'm going to have to work this whole thing out. I don't want to be mugged again - and, oh horrors, if they'd gotten my purse with my journal in it! - but, I can't go around without my journal.

So, I've got some thinking to do.

What's up...

Ricë told me that if I didn't blog today, she was going to unlink me! Alright already! She said I'm even behind Miss Doxie in blogging, and Roz positootley puts me to shame. Sigh. It is true. I figured at the very least I could list my excuses for not blogging.

First, I went to the cabin in NY. It is kinda primitive, essentially a shed. There's no heat, unless you are one of those silly people who thinks you can heat an uninsulated cabin with a fireplace. There is also - gasp - no internet, at least no hi-speed internet, unless I drive into town. And, in August, with gas at $4/gallon, I didn't feel like driving anywhere very often. A couple of friends from Texas came to visit me and we did drive into the city, and over to Woodstock, where I spent way too much money on a really cool silk jacket. Almost all my clothes come from thrift stores (I shopped several times at the Salvation Army store in Kingston) except shoes and things like really cool black silk jackets with faux fur lining the cuffs and collar.

On my way back to Texas - mind you, I drive to and from NY, so I'll have a car while I'm there - I stopped to visit my sister in Ohio. It was sort of a surprise visit and we had great fun calling the folks and talking to them since they didn't know I was going to visit Pam. Hell, Pam didn't know I was going to visit Pam. My cell phone would not work at Pam's house, so we talked on her phone. Stupidly, I left my cell phone in the living room... Stupidly because Pam and Jed arise early enough in the morning to leave the house at 6:15 am! I am NOT awake at that hour, so they told me just to lock the door behind me. I rose, showered, dressed, made a cup of coffee, packed and left, locking the door behind me. Of course, I'd left the cell phone in the living room. I couldn't call Pam to ask if there was a key hidden somewhere, 'cos, well, my cell phone was in the living room. I remembered that the window was open in the room I slept in, so I figured I'd just go around the house to the window and slip it open, pop in and retrieve the phone. I just didn't reckon on the house being completely surrounded by huge bushes in an impenetrable thicket. It had rained, so as I tried to slip along between the wall of the house and the bushes, I got completely soaked and covered in wet, decaying pine needles. Sure enough, the window was open, but I couldn't get the screen out, so had to go back to my car, get my trusty Opinel French Fruit Knife (#4), wend my way back to the window, and slip out the screen. Ahh, one more problem, even though I was wearing 3 1/2" heels, I was not tall enough to jump into the window. Once again, I slipped back between the house and the bushes, to the garage, where I found a bucket, a sturdy bucket, which I carried back to the window, climbed in, retrieved my phone, climbed out, closed the window, put in the screen, grabbed the bucket and wound my way around the house one last time... I put the bucket back and looked at myself in my car window. I was covered with wet pine needles, and had dirt and muck all over me. But I had my cell phone. And no one had called the police, so I drove off and called my sister and told her how easy it was to break into her house.

Back in Austin, I proceeded to cut off my fingers on my left hand with a table saw. Wait, wait, I'm making that much more dramatic that it really was. I actually just ran the fingers lightly over the whirling blade when a piece of wood backed up as I was ripping it. It hurt like a melonfarmer. I couldn't believe I'd done what I'd done, but I had enough sense to run into the bathroom and put my fingers under cold running water. I managed to reach my Vicodin with my right hand and promptly took one. Twenty minutes later the bleeding was manageable. I could bend the fingers, so I knew I hadn't severed a tendon or a bone. To celebrate that fact and to try and overcome the pretty horrendous pain, I took another Vicodin, and fell sound asleep. When I woke up, I soaked my fingers in warm salt water, changed the bandages, took more Vicodin and went back to sleep. I think I did that for two days. Then I decided that, despite the salt water soakings, my index finger was getting infected, so I called my doctor's office. When you tell them you've run your hand through a table saw, they'll see you right away. They just want to see what kind of a person would be silly enough NOT to go to an emergency room, I think. Anyway, I ended up going to a plastic surgeon who told me that my fingers were going to be horribly deformed. For that he charged me $166. Actually, my fingers are going to be fine, I think, and my index finger is kind of cutely deformed. But they hurt like cold fire when they get cold.

Let's see. Oh yeah, ten days after that I taught my first fall class in bookbinding. It went ok. I'd quit taking the Vicodin, 'cos I just can't teach on the stuff. I was feeling pretty perky and chipper. I got home from class and realized I was out of wet cat food. So I walked to the grocery store five blocks away, talking on my cell phone to my Dad the whole way. I had my wallet and a nice 'shopping' bag I'd gotten in Guate this summer. I put the cans in the bag with my wallet and left the store. A car followed me out of the lot, turned onto the street I turned onto and parked and turned its lights out. (It was 9:45 pm.) I saw the cars lights go on and then WHAM!, something hit me really, really hard on the back of the head. It hit me so hard that I just sort of flew to the ground. I didn't even put my hands out (a good thing, considering) to break my fall. And then some melonfarmer was wresting my bag off my shoulder, and I was telling Dad that I had to get off the phone, I was being mugged. I sat up and yelled "You're only getting four cans of cat food," at the young man who was running to the car that had pulled up alongside us. And then I remembered my wallet and thot "Shit." I called 911, and four police cars came. They wanted to take me to the emergency room, but I didn't want to go. I knew I didn't have a concussion, and I just wasn't in the mood... The police had those big flashlights and they found my hat and glasses, and bluetooth earpiece... And my wallet! Apparently when the guy jumped in the car, my wallet fell out of the bag. Everything was there. The police offered to take me home, but I told them I had to go back to the store and buy four more cans of cat food, so, bless them, they took me to the store and waited, and then took me home.

So, have you been in the back of a police car recently? I hadn't. They're all molded plastic, from the back of the driver's seat to the back of the back seat, with a plexiglass divider in the middle. I think this should be an option - the 'travel' option - for all family cars. You can just hose it out if there are any accidents, and the kids can see each other but not touch each other. Fabulous!

Ahh, and now it's tree lot time. I run a tree lot for a charity at Christmas. We sell somewehere between 2,500 and 2,700 trees and all the profits benefit youth charity. The lot is staffed by volunteers and part of my job is to 'organize' them and their schedule. It's like herding cats. However it's really fun because I get to pretend I'm a lumberjack for three weeks and play with trees and chain saws! Vrrrooom! Vroom! The only problem this year is that it's been pretty cold here in Texas, which is good for tree sales but really bad for my fingers. It will be over next week, actually, if we don't run out of trees first. We turn the lot over to a Boy Scout troop for a week and in return they set up and tear down the lot for us. So, on Wednesday, the tree lot is theirs and I begin my frantic cookie baking project.
A future Tree Lot Chairman

And that's it.


Monday, August 4, 2008


That's right, I'm in Guatemala, where it's pretty darn cold. Yes, I know that back home it's something like 105 degrees (which is something like 40 degrees in C, I think) but here it's in the 60s and raining. It's because we're at 7,500 ft (no, I'm not going to do the whole meters thing, thank you). I'm here with my daughter Ali and my granddaughter Kaya at spanish language school, Casa Xelaju. There should be an accent on the 'u' to let you know that that's where the emphasis goes, but this is a spanish language keyboard and I haven't gotten the hang of it yet.

Xelaju is the actual Maya name of Quetzaltenango. I'm not sure which Maya language, but one of them, anyway. The school is fabulous, giving us five solid hours of one-on-one instruction a day, plus room and board for $190 per week. Of course you DO have to get to Guatemala, and from Guatemala City to Xela, but still, it's a great deal, especially if you get to stay with a family like the one we're staying with, who feed us well, take great care of us, and live only a block from the school!

So far we have been to Antigua, which is a very cool town with a big ex-pat scene and bars that have a really good mezcal named Ilegal, which comes from Mexico. We were there for a couple of days visiting a friend of Ali's also named Wendy and meeting lots of new friends. The bus trip here was totally scary as you go up into the mountains and then down and then up again and then down into Xela. The roads are pretty iffy with great views, or 1000 foot dropoffs, depending on your point of view. I'm ashamed to say that the latter was mostly my point of view, but it probably had to do with the exhaust fumes and the smell of burning brakes.

We went halfway back to Antigua last weekend only the weather was pretty scary for this microbus trip. It was raining and foggy with 1000 foot dropoffs, only you couldn't really see them because you couldn't even see the road. We were going to the lakeside (Lago Atitlan) town of Panajachel, which is very touristy, but the tourists are from all over the world and it's really fun. We stayed at a quite nice hotel... $45 a night for 3 people in a room, Hotel Kakchikel, if you go to visit. It had a pool... It was a cold pool, but it was a pool and it was actually warm enough Sunday afternoon for me to dip my toesies in the water. I did a lot of shopping. I ate numerous bowls of fabulous chicken soup and ate baskets of freshly made tortillas and guacamole at Pajaro Azul. Friends from Antigua came, too, and made it a real sort of vacation... (Sitting in a classroom speaking spanish five hours a day is pretty hard work for some of us.)

I visited a chocolate 'factory' last week, too. They're kind of like the ones in Oaxaca, but a bit more primitive. The machinery was very cool. Electric, with long leather belts cobbled together with nails. The guy in the couple who worked there was just finishing putting a belt back together when my teacher and I arrived. They ground the cacao beans first into a metal tub with sugar in it and mixed the ground cacao, which looked like thick Hershey's syrup, into the sugar by hand. That tub was picked up and moved to another mill and ground again twice with some other stuff like vanilla beans and pine nuts. It is then patted down into plastic tubs - the heat of the hands makes it kind of melty - and given to women to form into bars in old metal molds. Yes, of course I ate it. It's delicious... Kind of grainy and completely unlike American or European chocolate. The little factory smelled like heaven, or what I think heaven would smell like, anyway.

Just a few quick things about the highlands of Guatemala...

- Houses are open to the air. They have windows and doors, but usually, somewhere, there's some place that's open to the outside. There's no heat or ac, because normally you don't need it. Occasionally people use space heaters...

- A lot of the streets in the center of the bigger cities are cobblestone and kind of one way (una via) and only for fairly small cars. There are maybe two or three traffic lights in this city, or at least that's all I've seen, and damn few stop signs either. There IS a fair amount of horn honking, and people actually look when they get to a corner, because buildings are built right up to the street and you can't see around the corners.

- There are some sidewalks, but they are also cobblestone and very narrow. Apparently the most common injury to students here is falling down on the sidewalks.

- Tortillas here are thick and small and made of corn, but tamales are made of cooked rice mixed with oil and wrapped in plantain leaves.

- You see lots of dogs here on the streets... Skinny dogs that live on garbage and handouts. So far I've seen three cats, two on rooftops and one at a vender in Pana. I bought a bedspread from him. It was very beautiful as was the cat.

Monday, May 5, 2008

alla prima painting class

I had a fabulous weekend. Friday, Austin Museum of Art's Art School (where I teach bookbinding) sent out an email about an alla prima (Italian meaning 'at once') painting class taught by Laurel Daniel, that was going to happen over the weekend. One of the fabulous things about teaching at the Art School is that you get to take, ummm, I think it's one class for every class you teach, per semester, FREE! Art classes, for FREE! Never mind that somehow this gem of information had escaped me in the last umpteen years I've taught there; it came this weekend, and for a painting class that was FABULOUS!

The whole point of alla prima painting is that it's done quickly, so it's just what you need for painting outdoors (or plein air... Note that to be really cool, all artist's terms are in a foreign language...) where the light changes from moment to moment, giving you at most about 2 hours to paint something before the light is so radically different that it's a completely different painting.

But we were not painting out of doors, because, frankly, the light changes a leetle too fast for beginners to deal with. No, we were working in one of the wonderful new studios at AMOA/Laguna Gloria, with spotlights on little vignettes (see, another French word) set up by Laurel. Still lifes (ok, that one's in English), as it were.

Laurel's technique involves using a warm and cool of each primary color and raw umber and titanium white. So our palette (!) was: cadmium yellow pale, cadmium yellow, cadmium red, alizarin crimson, ultramarine, and pthalo blue... (plus the umber and white). Laurel uses no turpentine or mineral spirits, which makes it a fairly non-toxic art class (you still can't suck your brush or anything, because cadmium is poisoinous and besides, it's hard to get off your teeth and lips). You just use refined linseed oil and Masters Brush Cleaner.

First you mix up blobs of alizarin crimson, ultramarine and raw umber to create a really dark neutral color, like a black but not black. You don't paint with black, actually, because it doesn't really exist in the world of art because it's the absence of color, or something, and it just deadens anything you add it to. So you use dark neutrals or purples. You mix in a bit of linseed oil until you have a nice yogurt-cream consistency mixture and paint your underpainting, complete with some drybrush shading.

Here's a small underpainting for the first painting I did. Notice that the original drawing is scrubbed out because it was too small. This is what you paint over using your limited palette of color. One of the things you have to do when painting is figure out the 'value' of everything, how light or dark it is. To help us start thinking about value, Laurel had us do a value painting using only 6 or 7 tints of the dark neutral paint. Here's that little painting. (These two paintings were on 12x12" canvas boards.) After that we were ready to start our 'big' painting, in color!

At the end of class the first day it got kinda hectic, with Laurel telling us we had 15 minutes to finish so to start throwing on our background colors. Sheesh! Actually, I think that that was the best thing about the class and these paintings: working under a deadline... Because I've never been happier with paintings! Sure there are things 'wrong' with them, but as a whole, they are what I wanted. The painting style is loose, which is something I've wanted to achieve for years! (You'll notice a lot of exclamation points, because I'm just so jazzed about this!) I could go on and on, but frankly, I'd rather be painting!

Wednesday, April 2, 2008

My Dad

I call my Dad every night... Well almost every night. He lives in NC in a retirement village and I live in Texas, and I call him after 8pm, when my free minutes kick in. He's in assisted living now, 'cos he's in a wheelchair and can't really get in and out of it without help. And, he's getting kind of old (almost 90!) and can't hear too well and has trouble concentrating.

That's something that happens when you get older... You lose the ability to multi-task. Now some of us think multi-tasking is a moral weakness, so this doesn't bother us, but still. Dad can't really concentrate on more than one thing at a time, so, if you want to talk to him it's actually easier to do it over the phone, after he's in bed and the nurses have him all tucked in and everything. He can actually hear you and nothing distracts him and it's this kind of insular little thing between us... And my computer.

We start off on a discussion - tonight we started with him telling me about zarzuelas, because a group had performed one at the retirement village tonight. So he says "Zarzuela," and spells it and I look it up on wikipedia, just like you probably just did... And then I read him anything interesting I find on wikipedia... The zarzuela he heard was Cecilia Valdes by Gonzalo Roig, and I noticed that the singer was Aida Pujol. Now Pujol is an interesting name to me because it's the maiden name of my 2nd ex's mother, whose family was from Cuba. And Dad said he didn't remember that (after I mentioned it to him) but he remembered that when he'd met her, she'd shown him a bunch of old family letters in some variant of German...

Which is because before they went to Cuba, they lived in Alsace Lorraine. So I go to Alsace Lorraine in the wikipedia, but, see, this is the fabulous thing about my Dad...

He already knows all this stuff... Without the wikipedia. Now somehow from here, and I can't quite remember how, we got off onto Finno Ugric. I truly do not remember how, but on this, I could actually read stuff to my Dad that he didn't know! Boy, howdy was that exciting! And we had to hit the Proto Uralic page, too, just for good measure and I was trying to describe the pretty colored map with all the language groups on it and go through the cognates, as well as I could because these are NOT easy languages to pronounce... At least to me.

And then Dad noticed it was after 11 his time and I guess he'd had enough of Finno Ugric so we said good night.

In English.

sick cat day

Ok. Ricë posted a sick cat story, so I have to post a sick cat story. It's not a competition or anything, it's like a theme, a leitmotif... A metaphor. No, maybe not. I guess, really, that reading about Cutie Pie (who sleeps with me when I visit Ricë and Earl so I won't feel lonely) made me remember this story. It's about Abner, who is one of the 'front porch cats.' My next-door-neighbor moved about six years ago and left 22 cats. Now, mind you, she took 38 cats, and would've taken these but she ran out of cars and cat carriers, and so the ones that were hard to catch and the ones that were hanging out on my porch, got left behind. I guess it was some kind of kitty rapture thing... Anyway. It took her car, her sister's SUV and her nephew's van to move the 38, and all she ever had after that was her tiny little car, so the rest of the cats never got moved. That's how I got Abner... And a bunch of other cats, but this story is about Abner.

I truly think that kitties are only really happy when they're well. A couple years ago Abner got into a fight with something. Dunno what it was but it bit him on a front paw when he was out being a cat and by the time he came home, the infection had gone to the bone. When I finally caught him and took him in to the vet's, the vet wanted to put him to sleep, because the leg needed to be amputated, and what good was a three-legged feral cat?

Well, I didn't know, but Abner was a friendly cat, always greeting me, and nice to the other kitties, letting the older cats and lady cats and kittens eat first, so I wanted to save him. What if I just gave him antibiotics? I asked. The vet exasperatedly explained that then at best I'd have a limping cat, which was about as useless as a three-legged cat. And then he quit talking because he could see by the look in my eye that I just wasn't buying it. Didn't help his cause that this was about a year after I fell off the roof and shattered my leg and was told I might never walk again, would surely never dance again, and the best I could hope for was a not-too-noticeable limp... No one suggested putting me out of my misery... At least not within my hearing...

So we did antibiotics. And sure enough, the vet was right. Abner was positively miserable... For about six months. He limped when it was cold or damp. He didn't seem very happy to see me, and there was no little sparkle in his pale green eyes.

I don't know what happened: if the pain got better or he just figured out he was ok and was going to live or what... But now he smiles when he sees me and comes to say hullo and can climb trees just fucking fine, thank you very much, and has very little limp at all...

About as much as I do.

So we commiserate on the cold wet days...

That's what friends are for.

Saturday, February 23, 2008

fortune cookie

So, I'm getting ready to teach in the new studio (What? What's she talking about... New studio? Another post, I promise!) tomorrow. This is scary. Do I have everything? I just don't know. I tried to run through the whole process in my mind, but my mind is just, well, I just don't know. I went to the bindery and loaded boxes up with things i know I'll need and then stopped at the local eco store, Ecowise and bought some hemp twine to make the cords out of. I also bought a chocolate bar and chatted about my composting toilet with the owner... Got back in my car and drove home.

I decided after unloading all the crap from the car to walk to a local Chinese restaurant where they used to have curry chicken. It's not too far. So I walked, and of course they don't have it any more. So I ordered another chicken dish and sat there eating slowly like I learned from Ricë and Earl and they brought me the check (the waiters, not Ricë and Earl) and my fortune cookie. I looked in my purse and... No wallet. I remembered leaving it on the dash of the car when I left Ecowise. So I had to convince them to let me go get it, which they were loathe to do without an ID, but, of course, I didn't have an ID because it, too, was on the dashboard of the car. I told them I'd leave them my iPhone, but they didn't care. "How do we know it's yours?" they asked. I couldn't for the life of me figure out why it mattered if it was mine; it's still worth more than a $9 Chinese dinner no matter whose it is, but when I promised to leave my whole damn purse with my DIARY, they agreed.

So I RAN home. Well waddled. But still, very quick for me. And I retrieved my wallet and went back and paid and resumed eating.

My fortune?

Your heart is pure and your mind is clear.

Tuesday, January 8, 2008

Goodness gracious....

... It's been a long time. The last time I was writing, I was getting ready to set off on a road trip, The Cake Baking Road Trip, which took me from Texas to upstate New York and involved visiting a lot of friends and relatives and baking a lot of cakes. It was very fun, and I was just too busy having fun to write. And then, when I got to Phoenicia, NY, I had no internet access and my cell phone didn't work, and to reach civilization, I was forced to drive 20 very scenic miles to Woodstock and sit in the library parking lot where I could access the internet on my computer and talk on my cell phone at the very same time.

It took me a week to get to NY and about 2 1/2 days to get back, which was not a good thing. Too much driving for too long. The trip back, however, did involve a stop at Hot Springs National Park, which is one of the weirder national parks, considering it is on the main street of downtown Hot Springs AR. It's there because that's where the hot springs are... Under the street on Bath House Row. What's so cool about the park is that you can stash your car in a garage, and walk over to the Buckstaff Bathhouse, which is a fabulous old timey bathhouse that makes you feel as if you stepped back into the '20s. You can also fill up your bottles with water from the hot springs at a fountain on the street. The water comes out at 147 degrees, though, so you don't want to use flimsy plastic bottles!

After I got home to Texas, I promptly flew back to NC for the semi-annual famdamily beach trip. It wasn't the whole family this time, and it was probably our last beach trip with Dad, as it's gotten too difficult to get him out of bed and into his wheelchair. So... Sad, but fun and Bald Head was beautiful. Got back to Austin and went to Midland to do a book signing with Ricë... And give a 'sermon' at the UU church... And party and have fun... And then I was off to Oaxaca for ten days with twenty crazy artists and Michael deMeng. Now that was a total and complete hoot! Michael does 'ahhsemblage' for those of you who are not familiar with him. The trip included several days of hitting markets in and around Oaxaca, and did I mention it was over Dia de los Muertos? How could I have forgotten THAT! So cemetery visits, and ruins and museums and restaurants and bars and mezcal and oh my land.

Then it was back to Austin and the tree lot. Yup. I run a Christmas tree lot every year for one of the animal clubs in town. You know... The Lions, the Elks, the Rotarians, the Kiwanis... Animal clubs... And I are one. It's how we raise money for youth charity, and it's a lot of work, but really fun and about the best damn smelling job you can have on the planet, providing you're not allergic to conifers.

And in and along with all of this I broke a bone in my foot, had boils and had my kidneys fail... So it was a real doozy of a year.