Friday, November 27, 2009

Okra, who knew?

Yesterday I had another Thanksgiving dinner that couldn't be beat at my friends Ray and Aline's house. They live outside of Austin in what used to be the country, although civilization is encroaching yearly.

My Thanksgiving started the night before when I cooked my own small turkey at home, just for me and the cats. I'd gotten home late from the tree lot, so I ended up popping it in the oven, going out for a drink with my daughter, coming home, going to bed and setting the alarm to get up at midnight and take it out of the oven, debone and destuff it and put the bone in my ongoing pot of chicken broth. I heated that up, turned it off, went back to bed, reset the alarm clock for an hour later, and got up and put that in the fridge. So I had turkey yesterday morning when I got up.

I made gravy and cranberry orange relish and then went and taught my exercise class at the retirement home. I teach there on Thursdays, so I always go on Thanksgiving and a couple members show up and we breathe and make room for turkey! I called family. I packed my car to go to Ray and Aline's: bread pudding and whisky sauce (1/2 a bread pudding recipe, 3 whisky sauce recipes) and an appetizer: cream cheese whipped in a bowl, a hunk of smoked salmon, a little ramekin of habañero jelly and some water crackers. Easy-peasy and yumm. My strategy was to stick with just appetizers and desserts since I had my own turkey at home, and that's pretty much what I did. Cassie, R&A's daughter, had made a wonderful corn, squash and red pepper soup. There were ten adults and five kids sitting down to dinner and it was all good and wonderful.

We did the obligatory things: a blessing holding hands, drinking lots of wine, a walk to the end of the driveway and back between dinner and dessert. A stroll in the overgrown back yard/garden between dessert and The Game. (UT/Aggie for those of you who aren't from Texas.) Their beds are full of Texas winter garden plants: carrots, beets, lettuces, broccoli, arugula, but there is a whole row of still functioning okra. I never realized how beautiful okra plants were.

My friend, Diane, says they're related to hibiscus. I picked this one and brought it home to remind me of the bounty and beauty of Thanksgiving.

Wednesday, November 25, 2009

Just a quickie!

Here is the next page in TAGD. Another waterish color illustration, some lettering, and a business card from my friend, Amy Nelson. It's one of those new, cool, tiny business cards, expensive, but great images and a nifty little carrier. Two-sided... But, what I'm actually writing about is the importance of always having some kind of label or sticky stuff to stick stuff into your journal with.

You can see the little bit of label in this photo. It's just an Avery mailing label that's been spattered with paint... Lots of paint. Metallic paint! Other things you can do are to run the labels through your printer. You can use any size or shape of label; the little round ones are extra cool and you can use the grid they pop out of for decorative effect, too. I also carry a glue stick with me to stick stuff down to the page, but if you want to be able to see what's on the back of a card, you'll want to use labels and some kind of little hinge.

Off to do Christmas tree stuff. I just can't resist posting this pic of a really cute little Noble fir! It's 2 ft high and 2 ft wide...

Sunday, November 22, 2009

Ta Dah! The newest journal!

Yup. It's that time. I titled this one Through A Glass Darkly. There's nothing significant about the title, exactly, it's just that I planned on using a sheet of mica inset in the cover, and, well, you can see through it... Darkly. Sometimes what seems obvious is even more obvious than you thought. You might notice that the word D A R K L Y isn't on the cover. It's on the front flysheet, and you're supposed to be able to see through to it, umm, darkly. The mica came from Asheville Mica. They have a cool sample kit of 6"x6" sheets in several colors, two thicknesses (.015 and .030) apiece. I used a sheet of copper stained mica, the .030 one.

But you can't really read it from the cover, so I made a title page, too. Those are faux typewriter keys from PorkChopShow on Etsy. I just could not bring myself to buy real typewriter keys - I would've needed two sets - on eBay, and besides, I needed to be able to get them so they were the same thickness as the top board with the leather, which would have involved more engineering.

Normally book boards are just that: some kind of board - usually something resembling cardboard, although binders insist on calling it 'binders board.' It is not see through, though, so I used plexiglas for the front board, with a second, thin chipboard on top of it. It's a split board binding, meaning that the support that the pages are sewn on (muslin, in this case) is trapped between the boards. There aren't all that many glues that I know of that stick to plexiglas, but spray adhesive does, so that's what I used. The stuff you use to glue the rubber seals around car windows will work, too, but it's not clear. It's kind of a bastard version of a split board binding because of how I did the cover, and we'll just have to see how sturdy it is. Being carried in a purse for five to six months is a true test of how strong a binding is.

I actually had a page left in my old journal, but I went ahead and started this one anyway because it's November 22. My grandmother died on this date 52 years ago, and Kennedy was assassinated on this date 47 years ago just a couple of hundred miles north of here. Kind of gloomy, but there it is. BUT! My first post was from the Empty Bowl Project which is a wonderful thing.

I went there with my friends from my Sunday morning tai chi group, Ladies League. You buy a bowl for $15 - which goes to the Capital Area Food Bank - and then get it filled with soup from a local restaurant. You're limited to two bowls, but I managed to buy three (don't tell!). I love these bowls! Some are very sophisticated, some are very plain, some are very handmade, some are very colorful. All the soups we had were good and it was a wonderful journal inauguration!

Sunday, November 15, 2009

Holy Cow!

I have either crossed over the line into foodieland or insanity... Or both. Or I crossed over before and just now have the perspective to see that I have crossed over. I just spent $12 for a pound of butter.

It wasn't just any butter, of course, it was "Fresh, unsalted, raw butter from grass-fed pastured cows from a local farm." You call a number and they answer the phone and you tell them you want a pound - they won't deal in less - and you go get it. Cash only, of course. Wrapped in a baggie. Sound familiar?

So far I can tell you this about fresh, unsalted raw butter from grass-fed pastured cows from a local farm. It somehow seems more greasy than regular butter, even 'European-style' butter. It's pale. It has a flavor that regular butter does not have, which, I'm assuming comes from grass. I melted some to put on top of popcorn, and there are no solids or foam in the butter.

It tastes great. But it's really really expensive.

So I was thinking... What if food with lots of fat or sugar or chemicals cost a lot more money than unprocessed food? Kind of like the 'cap and trade' ideas that are going around for carbon now? What if all pounds of butter, margarine, spreads, oils, etc were at least $12/pound? and cakes and donuts and cookies and ice cream were $20/pound? Would people change their eating habits? Would you?

Wednesday, November 4, 2009


Just FYI... You cannot get DNA from a smear of poop. You need a whole turd. I am sure this information will come in handy at some point in my life, or perhaps in yours. If you can use it, please do!

I am still in shock over the events of the last few days, weeks, months, year. You'd think - with the miraculous recovery of my guitar - that I would be happy, and I am, I am! Unfortunately it alternates with bouts of crying, which makes me hysterical.

Way back in 1964, my parents split up and my Mom and I moved for one year to Palo Alto, CA. We'd lived there four years before that, and Mom thot it would be a fun place to go. We got an apartment in a building with a pool, which was a sort of novel concept and very swinging Sixties at the time. The landlady, also divorced, was a numerologist. Mom was having a bad year, and the landlady told her that it was her 'ninth tide,' which was some kind of bad juju numerology-wise, but it would all be over on Mom's birthday and things would get better. Mom listened to what people had to say (except me, sometimes), even if she didn't really believe what they were telling her. She didn't believe this, but she found it really amusing, and also strengthening; everything was going to get better by April 25. What a very comforting thot! On her birthday, a friend of hers brought her a cake decorated with a small box of Tide laundry detergent (empty) with nine candles on top of it. Things did not get better immediately, that's for sure, but thinking they were going to get better helped Mom.

Nine years ago, I had a bad year. I got Lyme disease (discovered and treated right away so I'm fine), fell off a ladder and shattered my leg (bone graft, steel plate), and then, a couple of months later, my appendix ruptured. Strangely, it didn't hurt, so I didn't go to the hospital for a couple, three days. By the time I did go, I had serious peritonitis. A very bad year.

I'm figuring this year is my 'ninth tide,' and, in just a couple months, it will all be over and things will get better.

I'm just hoping someone makes me an appropriate birthday cake.

Tuesday, November 3, 2009

Bad news and good news...

Let me start with the bad news first, mostly because it came first, and this only makes sense chronologically.

I was burgled Thursday night/Friday morning. I found this out when I was feeding the cats and saw that the door to my studio was open. I was working in the studio Thursday night, went into the house for something, fell asleep and never woke back up to go out and lock the door. Missing were my iMac G5 (4 years old), my digital camera, the hard drive I use to back up both my computers, my Fuji Crosstown 1.0 bike, and... and... And, my 34-year old Gibson 12 string, that I've had for all those years... My first 'real' guitar, Isabel. (Yup, all my guitars have names... My cars have names... It's sick, I know.)

I called the police and my insurance company. I couldn't find the serial numbers on anything except the iMac. I know that somewhere I used to have the receipt for the guitar, but couldn't find it, and don't have any recent pictures of it. I felt like an idiot, but although I had the receipts for the camera and hard drive, I hadn't written down the serial numbers... Which took me to the shed.

On the way to the shed, I noticed my weed whacker propped against the back of the studio. That was weird, 'cos I store it in the outhouse. The thieves had been in my outhouse! I noticed the door on the shed was ajar slightly, and went in. At first I thot nothing was disturbed, but then noticed that a box was open that shouldn't have been and went in to investigate further and found... A t-shirt that someone had used - recently, very, very recently - to wipe their ass.

I screamed and threw the offending shirt out of the shed and just stood their literally shaking with the whole willies of it. ICK! And then I started crying... Full out sobbing and weeping.

Perhaps picking up rags that people have wiped their asses on does not affect you in this manner, but I have been under a fair amount of stress in the last year what with putting my hand through the table saw, getting mugged, having Dad almost die, a weird almost romance, getting my wallet stolen and then having Dad actually die, and, well, I've just had enough. I've been bearing up pretty well, picking myself up and dusting myself off and continuing on, but the shit thing completely unhinged me. I couldn't stop crying. It occurred to me that the shitty rag was a clue, and I should save it. So I got some disposable tongs, picked it up, put it in a plastic bag, put THAT in a plastic bag and put it in my refrigerator, and tried not to think about having a shitty rag in my refrigerator. And then I went for help.

I notified some friends. Ricë talked to me for a L O N G time. My friend Clark took me out for drinks and food. I was still crying on and off over the weekend, but I was well-fed and tipsy, and that made it some better.

I kept saying to everyone "They can have the computer and the bike and the camera; I just want my guitar and the hard drive back." Wishful thinking! You betcha. I knew it was wishful thinking, but that didn't stop me from doing it.

And then - again, after talking to Ricë - I came to believe that there was a metaphysical issue here, or a metaphorical one, or a karmic one: I have too much stuff to keep track of.

I vowed to go and clear my stuff out of the shed, at least the easy stuff. I gave myself permission to take time before I threw away papers and photos and books, but told myself I had to get rid of clothes and linens and dishes and kitchen stuff and whatnots.

I did some yesterday. I did some today. I came across a whole bunch of religious art that belonged to my late mother-in-law, very Catholic stuff, very pretty, but no one in the family is Catholic and no one wanted it. So today I took six boxes, three bags, and a dutch oven over to St Vincent de Paul on Congress. One of the boxes was full of the religious paintings. Who better to have them than St Vinny's?

Afterwards, I went to the store, bought cat food and came home. I sat in the driveway, exhausted. It was mostly emotional, but still I was really tired and I just sat there and stared at my beautiful studio/garage which has been so violated and thot "What the fuck is that leaning against the side of the studio?" For there was something leaning against the side, sort of tucked under my big, big ladder... Something that looked an awful lot like my guitar.

I got out of my car very very slowly because I knew I was hallucinating and I didn't want it to end. I walked over, and there, leaning against the studio was my beautiful lovely guitar. I didn't think about fingerprints. I just grabbed it and started crying, and then looked in between the studio and the house next door, and there, halfway down, lying in the leaves and mud, was my hard drive. I approached it very slowly, sure that at any moment I would come to my senses, but no. It WAS my hard drive. It's power cord was missing, so I can't use it to see if the data is ok, but even if it isn't, it might be recoverable.

I called the insurance agency. I called the police. State Farm was really happy and will cut me a check tomorrow. There's a $1000 deductible, so I'm out a lot of money, but it's almost enough to get a new iMac. I'll treat myself to a new bike, too, at some point.

I thot about how really lucky I was. It's been raining like crazy lately, trying to make up for two years of no rain, but it hadn't rained in the last four days. I was shaking as I called friends to tell them the wonderful news. I'm still shaking. It damn sure beats crying.

I talked for a long time to the detective assigned to my case. He's actually interested! He's calling the DNA lab tomorrow. He may want the poop!

I still have a lot of things to think about and a lot of stuff to get rid of. I feel like at any moment bad luck or karma or fate could strike again.

Hopefully, if it does, the me that it aims at will dodge quickly... It's so much easier to dodge if you aren't carrying a bunch of shit around with you...

Monday, October 19, 2009

recent journal posts

Don't ask me why, but grackles fascinate me. Around here we have great-tailed grackles, which are larger and blacker than common grackles and which have, ummm, great tails. Most people hate grackles. Positively despise them... Yah, yah, I understand... They poop on things - especially cars - and make a LOT of noise, and eat other birds and are scavenger city birds who've learned to co-exist with humans. Well I figure that makes them pretty smart, and I love their cries, and I just try not to park my car under a tree branch...

A couple of years ago, Ricë and Earl and I spent Christmas day in San Antonio at a fancy-pants hotel on the Riverwalk. We had a fabulous time just walking around and having drinks in the bar, which was a whole scene in itself, because it was decorated as a swanky old English manor house type library, with leather couches and chairs and a fireplace flanked with bookshelves filled with books. Being us, Ricë and I immediately went to the bookshelves to see what they had. They were all these moderately old leather bindings in German and Swedish (at least we thot it was Swedish) and books on engineering. Nothing really interesting, but the Swedish books were some sort of encyclopedia and they were OUT OF ORDER!

Oh, NO! This could not be! While Earl got us our drinks - we wanted Pomtinis but ended up with something else - Ricë and I began organizing all the books on both sets of bookshelves... Yes, down on our hands and knees, saying "Oh, I think this one goes over there with that..." I think the bartender got a little concerned, and Earl had to tell him he should just leave us alone, we were happy and not causing any trouble, but I may have hallucinated that part.

Now what, you're probably wondering, does this have to do with grackles? At sunset we went up to Ricë and Earl's room and had wine and cheeses and breads from Central Market. The sunset was gorgeous and we were pretty high up and could look across to the buildings on the other side of the 'river' where hundreds, possibly thousands, of grackles were lining the edge of the rooves of the buildings. Cackling... Letting our their long grackle cries into the coming night. Suddenly, all ten thousand of them (perhaps I exaggerate the number) swooped over to our side of the river, while an equal number of birds from our side swooped over to theirs! The air between the buildings was filled with black birds. And then they all sat and settled in for a bit, and then did it again. Ricë and I tried to figure out if there was a signal, a lead bird, someone saying "OK, now, guys! SWOOP!" But it was getting dark and we were drinking wine and we never did figure that part out.

That wasn't the beginning of my grackle fascination, but it helped: I think they're beautiful. Probably some part of it is that they are BLACK BIRDS, and one of my favorite poems is Wallace Stevens' Thirteen Ways of Looking at a Blackbird. When I was doing these pages, I was thinking of stanza III:
The blackbird swirled in the autumn winds./It was a small part of the pantomime. That's where the swirls came from. I used my usual Caran d'Ache Neocolor II Watercolor Crayons for coloring the bird, and india ink and then a lovely coat of Golden Acrylics Interference Blue to make it iridescent afterwards.

Saturday, September 26, 2009

Sad news...

My Dad died two weeks ago. It was very sudden. I wasn't with him, but, essentially, it was a replay of what happened at Christmas - he choked on food - only, this time, none of us kids were right next to him to save him.

He choked at a picnic, outdoors, eating a hamburger. This, I truly believe was/is a good thing.

My Dad was 90. When I was a kid, he was an incredibly active man, doing hours of calisthenics every day, walking to work AND playing tennis. He did it because he'd suffered a lot of injuries, some in WWII, some before, and he felt that if he didn't keep active, he'd lose the ability to move.

By the time he hit 80, he was definitely having trouble getting around. He and I went to Oaxaca for my 50th birthday, and he could barely walk around a block, but he tried. In the airport, we needed a wheelchair. Two years later he got ill with C diff, and was hospitalized for two months. I don't think they thot he was going to make it, so they didn't do physical therapy while he was abed. When he was finally well, he had lost the ability to walk, and so he spent his last five years using an electric wheelchair as his primary means of moving around.

He never once complained about it. He wasn't happy about it, but he didn't complain. For the first three years, he could do transfers to and from the chair with a little help by himself, but he eventually lost that ability, too. When I would ask him how he was doing, he would usually say 'Good,' or 'OK,' or, if it was a bad day, there'd be a pause, and he'd say 'Más o menos.' Up until his choking incident at Christmas, he was able to 'swim' a couple of times a week. He used quotes when HE said it, because, it was really therapy with a person with him, supporting him when he needed it. The buoyancy of the water offset his weight and he could walk around. He loved it.

He never really recovered from Christmas. He was sick for a couple of months, and very confused mentally about timelines and dates. He got better. He got C diff again. He got better. He got a nasty bedsore. He got C diff. Our conversations - my Dad and I talked every night almost - dwindled. Before Christmas, we would often talk for over and hour. After, sometimes five minutes was pushing it, and it was me doing most of the talking. On a good night, I could engage him for twenty minutes, but that was it. He wasn't interested in things like he had been before. He watched television, for pete's sake!

I went to see him each month, each time for about a week, and finally, in August, he seemed better, more alert mentally. But his alertness would come and go. Once every three days he would have a good day. The only thing he ever complained to me about in all this time was that he didn't get to go outside anymore. Most days he wasn't put in his wheelchair, but sat in a more comfortable recliner. No one thot it was really safe for him to be driving around loose. He tended to fall asleep at the wheel, or run off the sidewalk.

So. The day he died, he was in his wheelchair. It was a bright sunny beautiful day. He was at a picnic celebrating Carol Wood's 30th anniversary. Someone took a picture of him a minute or two before he choked. It's not a good picture. He's sitting, holding the hamburger he's about to choke on. Someone's sitting next to him and someone's leaning over talking to him. He's not looking at them. He's about to die. He doesn't know it... It's only us who know it, and only now.

And I can only think I am glad he died before he got any worse mentally or physically. I am glad that my active, sporty Dad is free of his uncooperative body. I will forever miss his mind and humor and love but I will only be sad for me... Not for him.

I love you Dad.

Saturday, August 8, 2009

Julie & Julia, redux...

Finally, I got to see the rest of the movie. I was at the 11:20 am showing early, 'cos, who knew, maybe there would be swarms of foodies thronging the theater. I went to another Regal theater because I had my free pass from them after the last debacle... And they honored it. Of course, I spent $12 for popcorn (bad popcorn with bad grease) and a fucking bottle of water, so they certainly got their money out of me.

I didn't at all mind watching the first half again. Since then, I've since read The Julie/Julia Project blog, and read My Life in France, so it was interesting to see where Nora Ephron had decided to change things. Some were kluges of incidents to move the story along more quickly, but, some, especially the parts with Julie, seem to have been made up. There's an article by her in The Atlantic about it that I think is quite good.

There were not throngs of people at the movie, but there were a respectable amount of people, mostly women, mostly older. The previews totally sucked. This is the second time I've seen a preview of 2012, and it looks like it's one of those special effects movies where the world gets destroyed every way possible. I always thot the idea was to pair the previews of 'coming attractions' with the main feature, and if so, this was a crappy pairing. The second preview was for The Stepfather, and even worse paring. Shit, even the preview was scary!

When I left the theater, there was a line of people waiting to get in to Julie & Julie, again, mostly older, mostly women, probably women like me who miss the hell out of JC. Meryl Streep does a wonderful job with her voice, which, as everyone knows, was one of the things that made JC so wonderful to watch.

All of this Juliaizing has made me pull out my MTAOFC and cook a fricassee, one that Julie cooked. It's your basic fricassee: soft saute carrots, onions and celery in 4 T of BUTTER, push aside in the pan and add your chicken parts (I used thighs, skin on) and make them golden, not brown. Sprinkle them with seasoned flour on both sides. Add boiling chicken or veggie or whatever stock and alcohol (white wine, vermouth, whatever) (I used vermouth, 'cos I had some) and cook. Cook some boiler onions using water and a glob of BUTTER, and saute some mushrooms in BUTTER. Pull the chicken from its sauce, and the mushrooms and onions from their liquids. Pour the mushroom and onion liquids into the chicken stuff and cook it down by half. Then add a cup of CREAM. Let it cook a bit and then pour it over the chicken, onions and mushrooms which you've appetizingly arranged on a platter.

Can you say rich? Can you say too rich for eating when it's 105 out? The first bite of onion and BUTTER squirts all over your chin. I mean, it TASTES fabulous, but it's... Just. Too. Rich.

I honestly prefer foods where the food itself is the centerpiece and not the sauce.

Which saves me from ever, ever having to make aspic. That alone qualifies Julie Powell for a Hero award.

And, in case you're wondering what's with the cute cat picture... It's just that. A cute cat picture. That's Spot. On a pedestal. He did it first thing this morning just to see if I was awake enough to grab my phone and take his picture...

Sunday, August 2, 2009


I'm teaching this weekend at the Art School at Laguna Gloria. It's a great place to teach and I always have a good time teaching there. I teach three times a year at this place: two, five-week classes, fall and spring, and a summer weekend class.

For the five-week classes, I teach four structures: a fun 'longstitch' book which is non-adhesive and really simple; a 'wrap/strap' book, also non-adhesive and pretty simple, coptic stitch, which is simple, but sometimes difficult in terms of getting the tension of the sewing right, and a flat-spine book.

For the weekend class, I do the long-stitch, wrap/strap, and a simplified version of the flat spine.

The first two, longstitch and wrap/strap, are pretty simple and can be made just about anywhere. I've made the first one in Mexico using paper I got at the corner copy shop and dental floss, because I couldn't remember the spanish word for 'thread.' (It's 'hilo,' in case you ever need to know... But dental floss - mine was cinnamon - adds a certain je ne sais quoi, to mix my languages...)

I like non-adhesive structures. I am especially enamored of them this weekend, as the PVA I had in my car for the class, dumped over, the lid came off, and I now have to figure out how to get it out of my car's upholstery.


Friday, July 31, 2009

I downloaded a bunch of brain wave apps for my iPhone recently. A couple nights ago I used one to sleep by: Brain Baths, I think is the name of the app. You pick a background sound (I picked rainy porch) and a wave (deep sleep) and put your headphones on and zone out. I can do this AND charge my phone at the same time, so I'm mutifuckingtasking even while sleeping. What a concept. Or not.

It worked quite, quite well. Sure I still woke up in the night, with the heat issues (which would prob'ly go away if I would just turn the AC lower, but, by golly I won't), but I could go right back to sleep. The funny thing was how used to the sound I was each time I woke up. I thot the silly thing had turned off, because it was so much in the background of my brain.

About 5:21 am (more or less) I became aware of a strange chirbling noise outside the bedroom door. My door is always closed to keep the cats out because there's no way I can sleep with them all in the room, and most of them are too 'kneady' in the middle of the night for me to even let them in one per night... So, I hear 'chirble, chirble, chirble...' and while cats do occasionally make that noise, raccoons always make that noise. I jumped up, opened the door, flipped on the light and there were a mom and two kits trying very, very hard to look like tabby cats. One climbed atop the scratching post; one hid its big brushy tail and tried to sneak behind a cat and the other popped under the table.

I yelled "NO!" which was a silly thing to do. It's not good to have raccoons in your house, but scared raccoons are even worse, and while one scooted for the cat door, the other two ran and hid in one of my cubby holes for shoes. The cats ran over to show me where they were in case I, in my human-ness, just happened to miss it. The raccoons were not happy about the cats being so close, so I had to put on my happy voice, pluck the cats away from the cubby hole and coax the two raccoons (the mom and one kit) out of the cubby and out through the back door. (I'd already thot to open it all the way to make their exit easier...)

Now I had three raccoons on my back porch. I'm sure they got in back there somehow, but the door was latched and they couldn't get out easily. Again using my happy voice talking to them, and, ok, I admit it, chirbling at them, for fuck's sake, I managed to get by them enough to open the porch door and they all slipped out into the night.

Big excitement.

But that's not what I was going to write about... It was just background...

I had to write about it all in my journal, because, well, let's face it, some days are a tad less interesting than others. I couldn't get my stupid Rapidograph to work, even after changing the ink, twice! and it splooted ink, watery ink, on my page. The ink sploots became the eyes of the raccoon...


Thursday, July 30, 2009

Julie & Julia

Well, I tried to see Julie & Julia last night on my free pass to an early screening. Somehow the second reel was wound upside down and backwards (I guess if it was one, it was the other, but I thot everything was digital now...) and they never could get it rewound correctly...

So I've seen a part of Julie & Julia, which opens one week from tomorrow and the part I saw was really fabulous! It was so good that most of the audience stayed for over an hour waiting for them to fix the problem, but, alas, then we lost hope.

The Arbor - the theater where we saw this snippet - gave us all free passes to a movie, bless 'em.

I had thot that I would only really like the Julia (Child) parts, but, not so. It's all good and funny.

Go see.

Wednesday, July 29, 2009

Some recent pages...

This is my favorite recent page spread. I try to go to one of the local farmer's markets on Saturday mornings even if I don't need any food. (I always buy too much!) I always buy something: some kind of iced tea (I love zhi tea and Oaxacan tamales!) is necessary when it's as hot as it's been here. The right side of this page documents my purchase of Texas olive oil from olives grown in Carrizo Springs. I've been waiting for locally grown olive oil for awhile now. It's hard to eat local and consume certain foods like coffee, and, until I found Texas Olive Ranch, olive oil. Locally roasted coffee is no problem, of course, we've got lots of that in Austin.
Here's a detail of the image. It's done with Caran d'Ache NeoColor II, which are their water soluble crayons. Caran d'Ache has the best pigmented crayons I know of. I use a Niji waterbrush to work the colors. I also carry around a little set of Winsor Cotman watercolors to play with, and the usual suspects for my calligraphish: Zig Memory markers, Pentel brush pens of all types and Koh-I-Noor Rapidographs. You can see the little zippered carryall I use for my pens at the top of the top photo... Most of my purse IS art supplies and my journal!

Sometimes I work out the details of a page before I start writing, like this Fourth of July spread. It's fun to try and write at weird angles. A lot of people ask me about my writing: how I get the lines straight (or in this case curved). I don't normally draw guide lines on the page, and my lines aren't really all that straight if you really look closely; they just appear to be straight. I do it by eye, and lots of practice, but I'm not above ruling in some guidelines if I'm worried about it or want it really really 'perfect.'
This 'R' was drawn using a Zig Memory marker, with the filled in parts being the Caran d'Ache crayons in the lines of the letters and the top counter of the 'R,' and photos taken on my iPhone in the bottom counter. I peel most of the paper backing away from the back of the photos so they will be more flexible and 'work' with the page, instead of stiffening it and trying to pop off when I turn them. I never really thot about it, but a person who saw my journals recently said "They look like illuminated manuscript pages," and I had one of those stunningly obvious realizations: They ARE illuminated manuscript pages!

Wednesday, July 22, 2009

Creating the perfect journal... part ii, stuff

Fruition's pocket...

There are a lot of things that contribute to a perfect journal for me... I like to be able to fold a book backwards on itself. I need a pocket to hold stuff. I have to have pages I can cut out, to 'hold room' at the spine for all the stuff I stick into the book.

The pocket is critical, though. I usually make a pocket into the book itself, but you can just stick an envelope in with double stick tape or glue into the back of your journal. Use it to hold the 'ephemera,' aka 'crap' that you collect and might want to use later or reference... Stamps, business cards, menus, photos, doilies... Hell, I don't know; whatever appeals to you. That way it stays with its journal instead of getting lost everytime you open the book.

A page spread from Sirena...

Which leads to another important thing: having your own stickers to stick stuff in with. I put a lot of stuff into a book. Photos. Stamps. Stickers, especially those ones you get when you travel.

I usually have some form of Avery labels floating around: mailing labels or sometimes those little round one. You can paint 'em, print on 'em, whatever. With the round ones you can use both the round part and the negative label for cool stuff. The important thing is that you have something in your pocket to use when you get something you want to keep.

I don't always use stickers to put photos in a journal. Every now and then I print a passel of photos out on a piece of glossy photo paper and glue them in, usually with a glue stick. I peel as much of the paper backing from the glossy photo as I can, so that they're really thin and flexible and can bend with the page, otherwise their stiffness makes them tend to pop out of the book after the page gets turned a few times. Of course I could use a real, archival glue, but I probably couldn't carry it in my purse...

And I always carry my journal, pens, a small set of Caran d'Ache NeoColor IIs, and glue stick in my purse... Because you have to be able to journal anytime, anywhere...

Again, thanks to Wendy Ogle for the photos...

Tuesday, July 21, 2009

Creating the perfect journal... part i, paper and ink

Fruition, my latest journal...

When I was making my current journal, I had a long think about what makes the perfect journal... Of course, that's the perfect journal for me, but there are several things I've noticed from teaching over the years, and they're consistent.

Number one is paper. My favorite paper is Hahnemühle Schiller, a hard, white-white, which I get from Atlantic Paper. It's 140 gsm, so, thickish, but not cover stock weight. I have used lots of other papers, mostly from Hahnemühle: Gutenberg and Biblio are my second choices for journals. (My last journal, Hope, was on Gutenberg, 'cos that was what I had enough of when it was time to make the journal...) But I love Schiller. I love writing on it.

Page spread from Fruition...

Which brings me to an important point. Writing... The physical act of writing. It's really crucial that your pen or pencil or crayon or paint flow smoothly across the paper. I use mostly Rapidographs for writing the body of my posts, and a variety of brush and felt-tip calligraphy pens (Pentel brush pens and Zig Memory markers) for capitals and such. The big deal for me, especially with the Rapidographs, is having the ink flow out of the pen so I don't have to stop writing and shake the pen or mess with it in any way. This means you need to have the perfect ink for it. I go back and forth and up and down on my ink. I have made my own from sumi ink sticks, but that tends to get granular enough to impede the flow pretty quickly. Currently I am enamored of Dr. Ph. Martin's Black Star Matte India Ink, which is truly black, truly waterproof and flows well. Now, mind you, I'm not using those teenitesy Rapidographs. I never use below a Size 1, and mostly use Size 2, 2 1/2 and 3, so we're talking BIG, here. I don't use the smaller ones because I use Schiller paper and it's just too rough for those little points.

And that's what I'm talking about: the necessity of matching your paper to your medium. If you do like to work with those tiny Rapidograph points, you're going to need a smoother paper, just like if you do a lot of true water color (as opposed to just using water colors as color spots like I do), you'll want a heavier paper than Schiller.

In the page spread above, you can see me using many different things. The capital 'a' in the left column is a Zig marker, 'the daily fruit' and 'Sunday' are Pentel brush marker with my own mix of waterproof ultramarine and walnut ink to create a blackish color, the text body is #3 and #2 Rapidographs, 'June 7th' is Pentel ColorBrush, as is 'Wednesday' and the illustrations are done with Caran d'Ache NeoColor II crayons and a Niji waterbrush. Just FYI, this is a full-leather, split board construction journal. The leather is dyed with various metallic inks and powders and has two gouache insets in the front and back covers.

Both photos were taken by my fabulous photographer friend, Wendy Ogle.

Monday, July 20, 2009

The Midge factor...

I have been dating, and it hasn't gotten any less weird than it was in high school. Of course, I didn't really DATE in high school; I would go out with someone once and then either we were going steady or we didn't go out again. I don't think that was the most successful strategy for finding a good partner, so now I am trying to actually date, as in go out with several people at the same time. Not on the same date, of course, but you know what I mean. 'Seeing' several people...

Of course finding several people that I want to 'see' is still a problem. Over the last few years I had met one man that I was interested in (one!), and he wasn't interested in me, even though we're perfect for each other. He LIKES me, we go out and eat dinner together, but that's it. Reading dating books has led me to the realization that we don't have that important 'emotional connection.' I have evidence that he likes women significantly younger than me. And there's just nothing I can do about being younger.

The other night, I was out for my walk. It's been hellaciously hot here in Texas - over 100 - for a really long damn time. I actually missed 3 weeks of it, 'cause I was at my cabin in the Catskills, where it was freezing (for me) and raining, but I'm back for a bit and going for my walks at night, when it has dropped below 100. I walked down South Congress and, since it was still hot at 8+ pm, I stopped at Jo's for an hibiscus mint tea. They were showing Vertigo. Apparently they're showing Hitchcock's movies on Thursdays (8pm-ish, if anyone cares to join me... this Thursday is The 39 Steps!)

So, if you haven't watched Vertigo, it has Jimmy Stewart as Scottie, a retired detective with acrophobia, Barbara Bel Geddes as Midge, his girl friend (who is perfect for him, and whom he thinks of as 'just a friend,' although it's obvious she's nuts about him), and Kim Novak as Madeleine, the woman he's hired to follow, who's a fantasy and whom he falls for hard. I don't want to say more, in case you somehow missed the movie and want to see it. My point is just what a revelation it was to watch the interplay between Scottie and Midge and Scottie and Madeleine... Because I always seem to end up as the Midge with guys I like and Madeleine with the guys I don't 'spark' with.

Interesting, very interesting...

So, I was talking about this yesterday morning at Walton's with some of my poor friends who have all at this point probably heard way too much about my trials and tribulations dating. I was telling them the interesting thing that I've noticed about profiles at my internet dating site. Many men seem to echo this sentiment: "Classy, looks good in jeans/thongs (as in flip flops), a tight skirt/heels or a ball gown fit for a duchess"... That seems to be a sort of theme with the guys who write this type of profile... Looks good in a ball gown and without makeup barefoot and wearing jeans. Another odd thing is the number of men who seem to want to have kids, but who are still interested in women in their 40s, 50s, and 60s.

I have looked at several women's profiles, too, and I haven't yet found one that says she's looking for a guy who "Looks good in a Speedo or a tuxedo," as my friend Elaine put it yesterday.

I'm not really drawing any conclusions here; I'm just noticing things. About myself, about men, about life.

Which is what I'm all about, anyway.

Monday, May 4, 2009

Party weekend...

Christy and me, looking fabulous.

It was a great weekend for a party person. (That would be me.) Friday night I went to a friend's law firm's party. It was at the Driskill Hotel, which was reason enough to go, since the Driskill is a fabulous place. It was a Casino Night themed party, with a buffet. The food was perfectly acceptable, with a lovely buffet up on the mezzanine, and gambling in the Ballroom.

Now I am NOT a gambler, at least not with cards and stuff, but I didn't let that stop me. That's how casinos make money, I am sure, on idiots like me. We were each given a $10,000 chip at the beginning of the evening and the object was to amass as much money as possible. MY object was to be able to keep gambling until it was over, with occasional short trips to the dance floor to rid myself of excess energy. I succeeded. My friend coached me on how to play blackjack. I didn't really get the hang of craps, but I like dice, so it was fun anyway. It just seemed like a lot of rules for throwing dice around, to me, BWTH.

Saturday I spent the whole day cooking. Some people might groan at that, but I love cooking. I put the stereo on LOUD and boogied away while making mole.

If you're going to make mole, you pretty much have to have some kind of a party. It has a ton of ingredients. There's not much of any one thing - except for a pound of chilies - but there are so many things that you end up with a pile of mole. So you have a party, put the excess mole in jars and spread the joy. Mole also takes hours to make. You have to de-seed the chilies, and roast the seeds until they are black. This releases the capsaicins into the air big time, and your eyes water as you, shake, shake, shake your griddle. You also have to roast your onions, garlic and tomatoes, slowly, as well as soften the chilies, grind the spices and the nuts and soften the dried fruits and then puree them. Hours, dear people, hours! This is one of the moles with chocolate, but that's just a little splash at the end, not the hard part. Anyway, the point is you end up with a dutch oven full of mole, and it's something you drizzle over stuff, so ya gots to give it away! (It does freeze, too.) While I was doing that I was slow cooking the shredded chicken, and soaking the black beans.

Yesterday morning, starting early, I cooked the beans, and made the cheesecake and cut up the strawberries and made the Cardinale sauce for its topping. Lots more music was required for all of this. After days of rainish, it cleared up and turned gorgeous in the afternoon.

People began arriving around three, beginning with my daughter, Sara, and newest grandbaby, Arlo. The whole famdamily showed up (ex, ex's ex and her husband, two daughters who live in town, grandkids), plus the most wonderful musicians.

These are guys I played with thirty years ago. They've veered off into bluegrass. Since putting my left hand thru the table saw last fall, I haven't been able to play even as badly as I used to, and I could not keep up with 'em, but I had fun trying, 'til I just sat back to listen.

Lots and lots of folks showed up, drank, ate and enjoyed the music. It's important to have an audience when musicians play on your porch.

Which brings me to the point of this post. I have been thinking a lot lately about people I admire and respect. Now I'd like to be one of those people who puts down that they admire, oh, say, Abraham Lincoln, Susan B Anthony, Hans and Sophie Scholl, and, goodness knows, I do. But I also know that they're not my role models. The people I really admire and aspire to emulate are Gerald and Sara Murphy.

And I think Gerald and Sara would've enjoyed the party.

Sunday, April 26, 2009

Audio books

Dad, me, and my cat, Birthday, reading The Hobbit, 1957.

Well, since we're talking about reading, I'll comment on the book I'm currently into: March Violets, by Philip Kerr. It's a detective novel about Nazis. Now, if ya'll know me, you'd know that - for me - that's going to be about as good as it gets: detectives and Nazis in the same novel! Woo hoo! As good as detectives and Indians, but Tony Hillerman is dead and won't write any more Chee/Leaphorn novels.

What started me with March Violets is that another novel about the same detective is about to come out. I heard about it on NPR, I think, and, like Ricë, I like to read an author in sequence, if possible. The only way this novel is available from the fabulous Austin Public Library is as an audio book, and so I've spent the last two days listening to it and trying to figure out what is different about listening to a book from reading a book.

This book is read by John Lee, and in googling him, I find that he reads a lot of books, which is cool, because he's really good at it. With just slight nuances in his voice he can shift characters.

My big problem with listening to books is that it puts me to sleep. Yup. If I need a soporific, just hand me some headphones and a cd player and I'll be out of it in thirty minutes. Better than Benadryl, Tylenol PM or Ambien! It's one of the reasons I'm kinda scared to listen to these things in the car, like my sister does when she drives from NC to OH. Of course maybe if I was doing something else at the same time, I wouldn't fall asleep. But what happens is I start to doze off, wake up a bit, and then doze off again and end up having to re-listen to the part I dozed over or I'm clueless. And that's ok, truly it is, because I like being read to.

My Dad used to read to me when I was a kid. He did it because he liked it, first and foremost, but also because he insisted that we NOT have a TV. He believed that if we had one, I'd never learn how to read properly and to love books. My Mom worried that I would grow up culturally stunted and deprived from not seeing TV shows that my peers were watching, so it was perfectly OK for me to watch TV at other people's houses... Just not my own. Not even when we sublet a house with a TV in it for a year!

And, of course, I didn't mind a bit, because I was about the only kid I knew whose Dad spent an hour or so a day with them. It was a family thing. Mom would sit in the living room with us and do something like darn socks or sew on buttons or mend things, and Dad would read. I would act out all the parts, zipping around the living room.

But that's not what I meant to write about.

What I was wondering was if anyone else notices the phrases in a book more if they listen to it than if they read it? It seems that certain phrases pop out at me in this book. Is it Philip Kerr's writing, or John Lee's reading?

How is listening to a book different from reading it?

Saturday, April 25, 2009

Damn, I've been outed...

Damn! Ricë outed me... Now ya'll know my dark secret: I will read anytime, anywhere.

Before I got to Texas, I lived in Dodge City, Kansas. I moved there from Madison, Wisconsin, which was a very hip a go go place. Dodge was not. A friend of mine at Dodge City Community College, where I worked, told me she wanted to introduce me to a couple of cool guys who were trying to start a public radio station, and one of them was Quentin Hope.

Quentin, and his friend, Malcolm, lived in Garden City, about 50 miles west of Dodge on US 50. I took the bus over to visit them for the weekend right after I met them. When I got there, Quentin was on the phone, hustling people about the radio station*. His apartment served as his office, too. There was a couch in the living room and tons of magazines and books. I think there was a current copy of In These Times, and about a hundred books. I just curled up on the couch, grabbed something and started reading. I don't know how long I read for, but at some point, I realized that Quentin was not on the phone anymore and I hadn't even said "Hello!" I jumped up, and started to apologize. Quentin told me not to; if you could sit and read in front of somebody, it meant you were comfortable with them. I knew we were going to be friends.

Actually, it was a funny thing, that. At Christmas, I went back to North Carolina to see my family. My brother Steve was there. I'd spent some time a couple years earlier in Yellow Springs, Ohio, working for Steve's Fly By Night Construction Company when I was in between jobs and traveling around the country. My brother introduced me to tai chi while I lived there, and I met a lot of his college friends (Antioch). They would talk about people from Antioch who'd gone on to other colleges and drink scotch and practice tai chi moves. (This has NOT changed. They are still wont to do that on occasion.)

So, at some point during Christmas week, when my family asked what I was up to, I told them about Quentin and Malcolm and the radio station, for which I was now designing logos. Steve looked up at me and said, "Quentin, Quentin HOPE?" and I said, well, yes, I thot that Hope was Quentin's last name. "I was at Antioch with Quentin Hope," Steve said... And then I remembered some discussion about some guy named Quentin who'd gone off to Oberlin, and, yah, sure, it was the same guy.

So when I got back to Kansas, I got to tell Quentin that I was Steve's little sister. Quentin hadn't thot of it because, although my brother and I have very common last names, they're not the same last name, 'cos he's really my step-brother.

A lot of what I read is magazines. I get both The New Yorker and The New York Review of Books, and those, alone, can keep me busy. But, like Ricë, I read detective fiction for fun, along with fantasy and some science fiction. I read biography, history and science stuff, too, as well as how-to books. I don't read those in bed, though, because I always want to get up and try whatever they're writing about.

So. If you meet me, and I pull out a book and start reading, just assume that I'm really comfortable with you.

*BTW, the story has a happy ending. There IS public radio in western Kansas, and on the High Plains, thanks to Quentin and other folks who worked really hard for it.

Wednesday, April 22, 2009

North Carolina

I paid a quick visit to North Carolina - Chapel Hill, to be specific - this weekend to visit my Dad. Somehow I forgot that it would still be spring there, beautiful east coast spring, with azaleas and dogwoods and phlox and... Violets!

When I was a kid I loved the little flowers in the yard, the violets and bluets and buttercups and clover. We had a patch of violets in our backyard that had some of the purpley blue ones, and some white ones and I would lie down in the grass and examine them all, trying to ascertain which one was prettiest.

I didn't do that with the little patch of violets I found this week. I just enjoyed them, along with the pink dogwood alongside one of the buildings in my folk's retirement village.

I had also forgotten about pine pollen. Here in Texas we have live oak pollen: yellow, voluminous, covering everything. I'm used to that, or, rather, I should say my sinuses are. In NC, it's pine pollen that covers everything. You could see it lurking from the third floor window's of Ginger's apartment. It got me.

But that's spring in North Carolina.

Thursday, April 16, 2009

Out and about in South Austin...

I live in a fabulous neighborhood. It's always been one, although in different ways over the years. When I moved here thirty years ago, it was a very mixed and poor neighborhood: an old blacklands 'hood that had shifted to Hispanic and then to musician. Houses were board and batten and tiny, from the early 1900s. There was a lot of prostitution on Congress Avenue, and when I walked to and from work, I would get offers of a 'ride' every block. But people knew each other and there were a lot of parties. It was edgy.

Now it's all gentrified. The blacks and Hispanics and musicians are mostly gone. It's more upscale, but the restaurants are a whole lot better and no one asks me if I want a 'ride' when I walk downtown. Don't even think of suggesting that it's because I'm thirty years older, cher, I'll backsmack you!

One of the constant things in the 'hood is the Continental Club. Last night James McMurtry was playing there at mignight and, well, I hadn't seen him in a long time. He plays with the Heartless Bastards. They're a power trio, and not for everybody, I'm sure, but I love to listen to him when I drive. And there is a move (albeit a really tiny one) to make Choctaw Bingo the national anthem.

I had to raid my piggy bank to go. Ok, and to take a nap, too. How did I ever play shows that ended at 2 am? Oh, yeah, it was twenty years ago! So there I am walking down South Congress at midnight with my quarters jingling in my pockets. The requisite street musician is sitting in front of the South Congress Cafe with his cds and his guitar. "Wanna hear a song?" I told him I'd love to, but I had just enough to get into the Continental Club.

Ok. So they laugh at you when you pay your cover charge in quarters. I'm tough. I can take it. I stayed for an hour (had to be up early this morning) and started to walk back home. Just up the street was the same musician, with his cds. "Now do you have time to hear a song?" He asked. "I have no money," I warned him. "I don't care, I just want to play you a song..."

So I sat on the bench beside him and listened to Ian Pummel (I think) (it was 1:30 am) play Tame the Mystery. And then I walked on down Congress to my cosy home.

I love South Austin.

Monday, April 13, 2009

Road trip...

I took a road trip a couple of weekends ago with some friends. Well, they weren't friends, exactly, when we started. In fact, I'd never even met two of them, and the other one I'd only met a couple of times. But, shit, if you want to get to know someone, go on a road trip with them. And this one was such little work, for me, anyway, since someone else did all the planning.

It was a road trip to Louisiana to listen to Cajun music and zydeco, feast on food (especially seafood) and have a good time. You can tell we're all pretty hardy, adventurous souls, if we're willing to spend four days in a car with people we don't know, albeit, a very, very big car, a Suburban, in fact, owned and driven by Steve, the person I know. The other couple, Duke and Carol, apparently only had one question for Steve about me before we started: "Does she like to laugh?" That's a good question to ask about people you're traveling with.

We started late in the evening and drove from Austin to Eunice, which is the nearest place to Mamou, LA, where there's a reasonably priced hotel. We got in at 3 am and were up at 7:30 so we could make it to Fred's Lounge by 9 am. We didn't want to miss a minute of the broadcast, not that we understood a word of it since it's in, ummm, French-ish.

We had a great time dancing. An actually amazing time, since, frankly, I can't dance with other people, but I guess I can now. Who knew? All that dancing makes you hungry, so Steve and I had a bowl of hen and sausage gumbo at a little restaurant across the street. I wish I remembered the name of it, because it was the best gumbo of the trip.

From Mamou, we went to Floyd's Records and had more gumbo. Then we drove down to Lafayette to check into the Blue Moon Guesthouse, which is a glorified hostel. We stayed in that room upstairs on the left. (Beware, they empty the dumpster across the street at 4:30 am on Monday morning!) Sitting on the front porch to check in, we met up with Two Hoots and a Holler, an Austin band, who were playing at the saloon that evening. Across the street from the Blue Moon is an old Borden's Ice Cream Shop. Carol and I sat on the porch and an ice cream angel brought us cones (coffee dipped in chocolate is yummy) without us even asking!

We headed back to Eunice, to the Liberty Theater, to hear DL Menard, at the Rendezvous Des Cajuns, which is broadcast from there every Saturday night. Then we hit the Palace Cafe in Opelousas for dinner, and headed back to the Blue Moon.

We did a swamp trip (Henderson Swamp) on Sunday. It was misting and gorgeous and we saw birds: egrets, herons, bald-head eagles, wood ducks, owls, and alligators and turtles, and a beautiful cypress forest.

We ate at Randol's, which is kind of a touristy place, but they had a great zydeco band and a bunch of kids dancing who were fabulous dancers! It was fun watching them, although I think we danced at least one number.

Monday we headed down to New Orleans the lazy way. We hit a museum and a looked at a couple of plantations. Now the guys had no intention of actually going into one, but I really wanted to see Laurel Plantation, since it was run by women, and they kept memoirs and record books of it, and ya'll know how into those things I am. It was highly interesting. These were cold-hearted business women, buying rafts of young female slaves - the cheapest slaves - and breeding their own workforce, instead of paying for it outright.

We ate at the wonderful Luke Brasserie on St Charles, which had ohmigoodness wonderful raw oysters. I had the white bean and duck cassoulet which was too delicious for me to describe. I'm running out of adjectives here. I had it with a couple shots of Basil Hayden, (rocks, water back, please) which was just perfect with it. We headed over to Canal Street to Chickie Wah Wah to hear the stupendous Evan Christopher accompanied by Shannon Powell, who is too delicious for words. The whole trip was an education in drumming, really. If the drummer is dragging or not in the pocket, the music doesn't swing and you can't dance to it. But when the drummer's on and smokin' well you damn near have to dance to it!

Late, late, late we headed over to Abbeville. It's a three hour drive and we got into the most ridiculous discussion of sex, spirituality, nuns and frogs. It kept the driver awake, but the rest of us were dazed and confused! In the morning we looked at the windows of St Mary Magdalen and then had raw oysters (a bit saltier than the ones at Luke, and fantastic, as well) and the crab plate, before heading back to Texas on the old Gulf Coast road. We stopped just before the Sabine Pass and bought huge Gulf Coast shrimp at a roadside stand.

So. All that was just the set up. What this post is REALLY about is the book I made about the road trip. Nah, just kidding, although I did make a book. I wrote a poem about the whole thing and stuck in a bunch of photos I took with my iPhone. Here's the poem:

Bons Temps...

Four people set sail in a car one fine night
Under the moon, to take their delight
In music and food and that other thing
(I’ve forgotten quite what) in Old Louisianne.

They made for Fred’s Bar on a Saturday morn
To hang with Tante Sue and bikers galore
To dance and to stomp and to have a fine time
And then to search out a gumbo divine...

...And records and flirting and old fashioned talk
On the porch of Blue Moon, where ice cream angels walk.
But there must be more music before there is sleep,
And food, of course, but that other thing?

Well, there are some pictures of them playing at sport
Tho’ who in hell knows what they really purport.
For they’re off on a tour of a swamp in a boat
And a whole lot more dancing and ice cream and food.

Elusive, indeed, was their much-needed sleep
Due to trucks emptying dumpsters: beep, beep, beep, beep.
But bravely, oh bravely do the four carry on
And leave for New Orleans at the first crack of dawn.

They looked at museums and plantations, too
Before treating themselves to dinner at Lüke’s.
Two dozen oysters all raw and Gulf Coast
And more talk and food, hey! can we have a toast?

But, non, they are off to Chickie Wah Wah
To hear Evan Christopher and the fab Shannon Powell
Then back to Abbeville in the middle of night
Talking of nuns and frogs with strange eyes

And spirituality and that other thing
Such heat and emotion lead to self correcting...
After some sleep, have they had it with food?
A chorus of voices says “Oh, no, no, no!”

Boudin and oysters and white lump meat crab
They can’t possibly drive; call them a cab!
But, no, they’re off on the old Gulf Coast road,
With a stop for fresh shrimp, before they head home.

Flying through Houston, how can that be?
Oh, thank the stars for that great HOV!
Only in Elgin does the food god desert them
Then they’re back home in Austin, with their poor stomachs hurting...

But their heads and their hearts are filled and replete
And for our fab four, that’s quite a feat!
All thanks to Steve, whose plan extraordinaire
And, ummm, wonderful driving! got them all there...

And back... And now, perhaps they’ll catch some z’s
And dream of new road trips, can there be a reprise?
With music, and food, and that other thing
On the porch of the Blue Moon, where ice cream angels sing.

Wednesday, April 1, 2009

I make yogurt

When I was in New York last summer I became addicted to Fage 2% Greek yogurt. It's thick and tastes - to me - almost like sour cream. It's also pretty durn exensive ($4.99 a tub).

In the olden days, I made my own yogurt. I had a Salton yogurt maker which made yogurt in neat little ceramic containters, although I also used the oven method before I got the yogurt maker. Of course, in the olden days I made my own yogurt because you couldn't get real yogurt in stores, stuff with lactobacillus in it; you could only get the stuff with sugar and fruit flavorings, and additives.

So for close to nine months I've been shelling out the big bucks for Fage, which is pronounced fa-yeh, and makes me happy when I say it. But the $4.99 part? well, I've never been really happy about that. So I looked up 'how to make Greek yogurt on Google, and found this wonderful video by Crebs, which I just love. This guy is cheerful! I pretty much followed his instructions, except I used 2% and no half and half, and I only let it ferment 11 hours. It's pretty tangy that way. If you want it less tangy, you let it ferment less. I made it in my oven. I used to have an oven with an oven light in it and I would just pop the saucepan in the oven with the oven light on, but my current oven has no light. So I put a small lamp with a 60 watt incandescent bulb in there.

I was really worried that Al Gore would be dropping by to beat on me for that, but I had my whole rant/rationale ready for him.

You see what prompted this whole yogurt making thing - other than the $4.99 part - was that yogurt comes in plastic containers. And plastic containers and bits of plastic containers have somehow ended up in the middle of the Northern Pacific Gyre (Turning and turning in the widening gyre...) in what is called the Great Pacific Garbage Patch. This thing is the size of two Texases! Now, ya'll who don't live in Texas just may not realize just how huge that is, but it's pretty damn big. The closest border to me is the one with Mexico, and that's some 7 hours away from here. When I leave the state to visit the cabin, it takes me 8 hours just to get out of Texas... And it's 6 hours to Ricë's house, and I don't think of her as being all that far away. Far out, maybe, but not far away.

I learned about the Patch from John Colapinto's article in The New Yorker about David de Rothschild's plan to build a boat out of plastic bottles and sail it across the Pacific to raise awareness about plastic bottles. de Rothschild is talking about upcycling instead of recycling, and that's cool, but I started thinking about how much plastic I use. It's probably not as much as most people do, since I don't eat much commercially packaged food (except for Fage), but even if you shop at Whole Foods these days, everything comes in little plastic containers or on styrofoam trays. In the old days, when Whole Foods was ittybitty, you could take your own containers in and they'd put stuff in them, and you can still do that, but it's a bit more of a hassle now.

The City of Austin has a good recycling program and takes all rigid plastics, 1-7, including yogurt containers, but still, these get downcylced into stuff and eventually they're going to end up in that Garbage Patch and kill some poor albatross, and ya'll know what kind of bad luck that is.

The yogurt came out fine, thank you Crebs. And I have whey to feed to the outdoor kitties, which is a good thing. Next I'm going to figure out a way to carry to go containers with me to restaurants, so I don't have to take home anything in styrofoam ever again.

ps. The image was created in Wordle, and is licensed using Creative Commons.

Monday, February 23, 2009

Oscar night

At the last minute last night I got an invite to a fabulous Oscar Party at Charlie and Sarah's house from my friend Wendy O. The idea was to dress for the red carpet. Wendy (O) took pictures of the guests at Charlie and Sarah's fabulous house.

What could I wear? Somehow, with all the clothes I have, I don't have a formal, and really, nothing else will do for the red carpet. I did have a pair of 4" pewter strappy lizard skin heels, which would've looked wonderful with something as long as I didn't have to walk very far, but I had no dress.

I looked in my teenitesy little closet and saw my hand-painted black velvet circle skirt with thousands of sequins. I've had it for nigh on to 25 years, and I think it was probably pretty close to that old when I got it, so it is an ancient and venerable thing. And ancient and venerable and very flashy thing. It would certainly do for flash, but no one in their right mind would really wear it to Oscar night...

Unless they were the Best Foreign Film of 2008. So that's what I went as...

Of course, since I was wearing my Taxco skirt (that's what's painted on the border; apparently it's a scene from Taxco), I could wear my cowboy boots, which meant I could walk like a human.

ps. Wendy O - very smartly - went as the Press!

Saturday, February 21, 2009

chicken tamales

Oh, I do so adore chicken tamales. I had a craving for them last week. My faves are the Oaxacan Tamaleo ones, wrapped in banana leaves. But you have to go to the farmer's market to get them, so I occasionally buy ones in stores. I bought some at Central Market recently mostly because they came in a little cloth baggie. I'm a sucker for things that come in little cloth baggies. So, of course, you have to figure out something to do with the baggie depués, and I thot, why not turn it into bookcloth and bind a book with it? So that's what I did.

Perhaps you can guess what the problem is when you turn a baggie into bookcloth: the baggie determines the size of the book, unless you want to run the design over the edges. I didn't want to do that, so I measured and then cut some boards to get them to fit the back cover. It had more type on it and so was the determiner of the size. I wanted to have some thickness to the book (it's blank, 80# Strathmore writing text in soft white), but couldn't have too much because there wasn't much room between the front and back of the bag.

I could've done a few more signatures, but I just wanted to get started binding. First I had to sew a headband. That's the thing that peaks up on the spine of the book - usually a piece of cloth just glued on, but in this case it's a sewn headband.

And then, of course I had to come up with some endpapers, so I found some images of a chicken and an ear of corn and made up a couple sheets in InDesign, and ran them off on my new Epson printer.

And, that was basically it, in terms of design, anyway. The hardest part of binding books, for me, is letting them dry in the press overnight. They really should dry a lot longer than that. I actually let this one dry about 36 hours before I had to take it out and show it to someone because it was just so darn cute!

And now I'll have to figure out what to do with it.

Wednesday, January 21, 2009

The inauguration

I have no tv. I grew up without one until I was fourteen, and have never really liked the damn things. I'd rather read or listen to the radio.

But yesterday I wanted to SEE the Inauguration, and I wanted to see it with people. So I was really happy when MoveOn sent me a notification of a viewing at the Dog and Duck Pub, which was opening early, people, to allow us to watch the End of and Error. The event was supposed to be for about 30 people, but there had to be 75 to 100 folks there, watching on tvs both inside and outside. Some were drinking coffee, and some were starting with the fabulous selection of draft beer that Dog and Duck has. Noisemakers were passed out to those both sitting and standing. I think you could fairly say that most of us were old enough to know who Aretha Franklin is/was and could probably do a fair version of Respect if asked.

And so we watched, cheering occasionally, and yes, booing occasionally too. A little growl of disapproval went up when Roberts fucked up the words to the oath of office. But we were mostly silent for the Address. We cheered and clapped a few times, and went nuts at the end. When Reverend Lowery said "That all those who do justice and love mercy say Amen," we all said "Amen!" with him and millions of our fellow Americans, loudly!

And, when the Navy Sea Chanters came up to sing our National Anthem, and Diane Feinstein told the crowd in Washington to rise, we rose too, and sang.

Monday, January 19, 2009

Call to Renew America

Today we here in Austin have the opportunity to participate in's Call to Renew America. I know, because I got my empty grocery bag stuck in my front gate yesterday!

My neighbor, Joel, stuck it there for me. My councilmen, Mike Martinez and Lee Leffingwell had the idea, I think. And, the idea is simple. We take these bags to the grocery store, fill it with things like canned tuna, stew and chili (preferably with pop tops), canned vegetables, pasta and pasta sauce, beans, rice, healthy cereals, peanut butter and baby food. The food will go to the Capital Area Food Bank.

The cool thing is that Joel will actually take the bag to the food bank or the Texans for Obama HQ for me!

The other cool thing is that I read Mark Bittman's NY Times column Fresh Start for A New Year? Let's Begin in the Kitchen and loved it. Most of this stuff I already do. There are NO salad dressings in my fridge that I haven't made myself. I grew up in a family that always used the same oil and vinegar salad dressing. My Mom made it, but my Dad taught her the recipe. It's just oil - when I was young it was vegetable oil, but, of course, now it's olive oil - vinegar, salt, pepper and lots of garlic. Mom slivered her garlic and added it to the bottle, but I chop it up. I do have a couple of cans of beans in my cupboard, just in case I get a last minute invitation to a party and have to throw together either Austin, Texas caviar or black beans layered with guacamole and topped with Mexican fresh cheese. So, I have beans and cans of gold and white corn. I also have a couple of cans of tomatoes and, gasp, a can of Campbells Cream of Chicken soup. All I can say about the latter is that I grew up in the south and there are a LOT of casseroles that require that particular ingredient. But I'm putting those cans into the bag. They don't all have pop tops, but I hope the food bank will forgive me.

Among my New Year's resolutions is to cook at least one pot of beans a week and eat them... Or I guess I could feed them to someone else. Right now there are two pots going on the stove: a pot of black beans, for black bean soup; and a pot of garbanzos for hummus.

New Year's resolutions are kind of a hokey thing, but they are a chance for us to think about the past year, evaluate it and decide what needs to change. We have a sort of artificial 'start date' to begin that change, January 1st, or if you miss that date, the somewhat later Chinese New Years. Of course you could start at any time, too...

This year we have an even greater opportunity. We have a new president after eight years of pure disaster for our nation. He's not just any new president; he's our first black president, which might not mean as much to you if you didn't grow up in the South in the years of segregation... If you don't remember the water fountains with 'WHITE' and 'COLORED' on them (and before you understood what this really meant as a kid, you thot it referred to the color of the water)... If you didn't see the guys with the white hoods marching down the street... If you can't remember the marches against the guys in the hoods... And, he's a president whose slogan is change.

And here's the thing... He can't do that by himself. We have to do it with him. We have to save ourselves. Given that he got 52% of the vote, I'm figuring I'm gonna have to save myself AND someone else. Probably a unrepentant Republican...

Friday, January 16, 2009

New Year's

Well, I didn't have much of a New Year's this year. We were in the hospital with my Dad, of course, and that's just not a place conducive to a New Year's celebration. I loved Roz's post about her New Year's ritual, only, obviously I couldn't do that on January 1st. But I can do it on Chinese New Year's, so that's my plan.

I'm getting really excited about the whole thing.

For Chinese New Year's - as I understand it - there's a lot of preparation involving cleaning your house, paying off debts, cooking ritual foods, a LOT of red and orange, and visiting friends. On top of that, I want to do the things that make me happy and that I love, a list that is not unlike Roz's: art, bookbinding, music, cooking, walking, dancing, exercising, and spending time with cats and friends. Oh, and seeing if I can find a Dragon Dance somewhere in Austin.

It's the year of the Brown Cow, BTW, which is supposedly a sign of stability, and I think many of us will appreciate that! So I'm making my list, balancing my checkbook, organizing my clutter and thinking in red and orange...

Thursday, January 1, 2009

the functional family

If you'd asked me about my family, oh, say twenty years ago, I probably would've said we were a dysfunctional family... My parents divorced, my Dad remarried (but not my Mom), I acquired two step-sisters and a step-brother, whom I had known before they became part of my family... And there were issues, the usual ones that such families have...

So this is the family that I came to visit, to be part of, this Christmas. We are at this point: my Dad and stepmom, Ginger; my brother (it's too tiring to keep typing step) Steve and his wife, Saihan, and their two daughters; my sister Pam (the photographer) and her husband Jed; and my sister Leslie. It's a lot of people in a small apartment. My Dad is permanently in a wheelchair and has been for six years. He has one of those electric ones and can get around their retirement village just fine.

We decided to do our unorthodox Christmas on Tuesday. I'm calling it that because we're not religious people, mostly. I was raised Unitarian, and I'm a lapsed one, at that. My sibs didn't really go to church, but said prayers every now and again... Anyway holding xmas on Tuesday would give us time to cook the turkey and eat it on unorthodox Christmas Eve - which was Monday - which is what is done in this part of my family. (My Mom's family are the ones that do lasagne on xmas Eve, and we're not even Italian...) On unorthodox Christmas, Jed prepares a kringle, which is a delicious pastry slathered with jam and sprinkled with almonds. We eat it while we open our stockings.

Now I, personally, am not very big on presents at xmas. I don't know why, I just don't really like the whole present exchange/stocking thing. A present from one person to another, yes, but several? Wads of wrapping paper? Hours of unwrapping? Uhh, no. But that's what the family does, and it's one of the reasons I don't usually come home for xmas. (The other is that up until last year, or really, since it's a new year, the year before that, they always did xmas on xmas day, and I'd rather be in Texas with my kids and grandkids.) Anyhoo... this year unorthodox xmas was after traditional xmas and I could come so here I am and you get this post...

So there we were opening stockings and eating kringle, except for Dad, who went to his spanish 'tertulia,' which is where a bunch of residents get together and speak spanish to each other. Dad got back in time for opening presents and as that was all winding down, he ate his kringle, and choked.

Since my Dad is in the wheelchair and he's not small, it took two people to Heimlich him, my sisters. Then he vomited, sort of interiorly and aspirated it. Then he started to turn blue. This all happened really, really quickly. And just as quickly, Jed ran into the bathroom to pull the cord to summon the retirement village emergency crew, and I was screaming "Call 911, call 911 NOW!" while trying to keep the bacon I was cooking from catching fire. Steve and Saihan lifted Dad out of his chair - no mean feat as he's 200+ lbs of dead weight - and Pam started CPR.

Jed took the little ones outside, Leslie and I moved furniture so EMS could get in, Steve went down to the parking lot to get ready for the ambulance/fire truck and Pam kept on with the CPR with the folks from the retirement village. EMS got there with suction and suctioned Dad's airway and got him stable and pink again and took him and Ginger to the emergency room. Pam and I followed in a car very sedately.

Leslie followed with food, water and books. You don't want to drink from emergency room fountains, really. You don't want to breathe the air. When your sister tells you to put a mask over your mouth you do so. Yes you look silly, but you're less likely to get sick.

It turned out that in suctioning my Dad (or in the compressing, or really anytime, but prob'ly during suctioning), Dad's stomach had been perforated and air was getting into his abdomen from the GI tract. This is unhealthy and can lead rather quickly to peritonitis. We lucked out in that the ER surgeon was Dr Charles, who is a whiz on GI surgery. Dad appeared to us to be cognizant of the world and us, but not able to talk because they'd taken his teeth and shoved a tube down his throat, so we made the decision to do the surgery...

He came through that and is now in ICU. If he can get rid of the stuff in his lungs he stands a good chance of recovery. But that's not what I wanted to write about...

What I wanted to write about was how functional my family was in an emergency. Without talking or ordering or anything, each of us chose something to do, something useful to do, and did it. The EMS people told all of us as they left that we had done it perfectly. Maybe they do this to everyone. Maybe not. I hope to hell I never have to find out by going through this again.

But it remains. We functioned, as a unit, and we functioned well. Shoot, I can't really write about it without crying.

We didn't really have much of a New Year's Eve, of course. Gone were the plans for the fabulous dinner at the Angus Barn. We were all asleep by midnight last night. But I do have a resolution for 02009 (I'm Y10k compliant and urge you to be too). I'm going to take CPR again... 'Cos what happened is that they've changed the compression to breath ratio since I took it from 5-7 compressions to one breath, to 30 compressions. Now that's a BIG difference.

And if you haven't recertified your CPR - or certified - I urge you to do so this year, too. It can save someone's life. Really.