Saturday, January 31, 2009

how does your garden grow?

I was chatting with one of my aunts tonight about gardening. It's not something I do right now, but I've been edging progressively closer to it over the last several years. I've managed to keep alive an iris that I dug up from the front yard of my house in Manchaca when I sold the place. And I grew an avocado tree and an onion plant in my compost pots. I guess that's got me feeling confident in my horticultural skills.

Confident enough that I'd decided to plant a tomato and some strawberries, anyway. I'd like to see how it goes. My aunt was telling me that this is just the time of year for planting... well, lots of things. And I asked her how I would go about finding out when to plant stuff.

She said she just learned from Miss Vannie, but she could pass along the basics. And then she told me a little more about Miss Vannie. She's sorta the stuff of legends in our family... a strong, brilliant, generous matriarch. I've never heard anyone speak ill of Miss Vannie, and if you know how Southern folk do, that's quite a statement. In The South, you can pretty much slander someone from head to toe, flay them, fillet them, and string their bones up for a scarecrow, so long as you say "Bless her heart" or "No disrespect to her memory, but..." before you spit your poison.

My mom wanted to name me for Miss Vannie, at one point. I'm not sure exactly how I came to be named something else, but I spent a couple of years in my childhood planning to legally change my name to Sarah Savannah when I grew up big. Miss Vannie knew all there was to know about gardening, mostly as a matter of necessity. She lived 10 miles from a store and she never once drove a car. She was my grandmother's grandmother, if that gives you any sense of her era. All her planting tips are pretty easy to remember, as they're tied to holidays. Plant this at the end of January, plant that on Valentine's day, and these other things on Good Friday.

Of course, I'm ... mentally challenged by calendars so I'll probably botch that pretty good a couple of times. But I don't live 10 miles from a store and if my peppers don't turn out, I can always walk across the street and pick them up at the market. Sometimes I get a strong sense of dissatisfaction with the urban life I live... The cars and the streets and all the people slammed up cheek-to-jowl and none of them friendly with each other, it really gets me down.

And then I look in the little pot out in front of my house and see that I've helped strawberries find a place to live in the city one more year, and it keeps me going. I bet Miss Vannie would've liked to have a little more city in her life sometimes, for the convenience. It's good to remember that on days when I have to pluck grocery bags that blew away from the store out of my crape myrtles.

Thursday, January 29, 2009

Relationship Recognition Action Feb 12, 2009

Dallas's National Freedom to Marry Day demonstration is set to take place on Thursday, February 12th beginning at 11:30 am. The event will start in the Historical Plaza, outside the Records Building at 509 Main St. in downtown Dallas. The aim of the event is to affirm the right of Gay, Lesbian, Bi-sexual and Transgender (GLBT) people to marry the person of their choosing. Queer Liberaction (also here) and Join the Impact have organized Dallas's demonstration for National Freedom to Marry Day.

Rose and I are going to take part in this demonstration. Do you know someone who cares about relationship recognition? Do you want to see what it's all about? Come on down to the Records Building on Feb. 12 and have a look.

We care because when we travel into Canada, we can fill out one customs form and cross the border as a family, but coming home we have to fill out two cards and pretend we're strangers. And that's just stupid. We care because we had to hire a lawyer to make it so that we're "next of kin" when it comes to medical decisions, insurance matters, and property division. We're not allowed to file joint taxes. When we have kids, we'll have to navigate an uncertain and nerve-wracking legal process to try to get both of us listed as their parents. Only one of us will get to claim our kids as dependents.

We care because, although Texas has a law and a state constitutional amendment stating that there is no form of same-sex relationship contract that the state will honor, let alone create, we're here. We live here because our parents and siblings and aunts and uncles and cousins live here. We live here because we were born and raised in Texas and we love it. But our family is in a legal state of limbo, because some people think that we, their neighbors, (who are already here and already have families, thank you very much!) are a threat of some kind. A threat to the "sanctity" of a contract drawn up at the JP's office?

We're not going to petition churches to change their religious beliefs, we're going to ask the County of Dallas to extend the same rights and obligations to us that they would extend to any other citizen. You know, the way it works in countries that are NOT theocracies...

Tuesday, January 27, 2009

25 Random Things

I don't really like tagging, because it comes with a sense of obligation. If I don't like asking for a ride to the hospital, you can imagine how much less I like asking anything non-urgent. So, if you read this and feel like doing it, leave me a comment telling me where to find your list. It's a wonderful freezing-rainy-afternoon-waiting-for-a-download sort of activity.

  1. I love to cook for an audience. Especially if the whole shebang is impromptu and I have to improvise a menu from whatever is laying around the kitchen
  2. I broke my thumb once because I had seen a TV character say "Go sit on your thumb!" and I wanted to know if it was possible.
  3. I love teaching. My favorite feeling is the one when I explain something to somebody and they GET IT.
  4. I am not a gearhead and couldn't care less about all the stupid letters and numbers attached to vehicles.
  5. I bungee jumped out of a gondola once and told my parents about it by having the pictures shipped to their house.
  6. I was Jr. Miss Hallettsville and got to be in the parades and everything.
  7. I skipped the second grade completely. I went straight from first to third.
  8. I have never ever ever in all my years experienced a runner's high or enjoyed running at all.
  9. My one and only irrational fear is of suffocation.
  10. I believe in reincarnation. I'm also Christian. I don't think these things conflict.
  11. I'm bisexual, but just barely. On the Kinsey scale, I'm a 4.
  12. Some people have found it easier to think of me as bisexual than as lesbian.
  13. I've had at least 13 dogs in my life.
  14. The only heroes I have to speak of are my grandparents, although I have some pretty freakin' impressive sisters and parents, too.
  15. I don't like to watch any sport unless I know someone who is playing in the game, unless it's the Olympics.
  16. I sip my brain and my personality from a coffee cup every morning.
  17. I am an engineer, but I started out as a double major in Middle Eastern History and Poli Sci with a minor in Arabic.
  18. I got an infamous haircut on the porch of an apartment over a fish market in New Orleans at Mardi Gras one year.
  19. I love to edit and am something of a 'Grammar Nazi.'
  20. I don't like to think of myself as smarter than anyone else, particularly.
  21. I have only once had occasion to put my finger on the trigger of a gun outside of target practice. When I got to that place emotionally, I was ready to kill without hesitation or qualm. Luckily, it was not necessary for me to pull the trigger.
  22. If I could send the entire world to "Eternal Sunshine Of The Spotless Mind" therapy, I would erase drinking alcohol from our collective consciousness and remove it from society entirely.
  23. I am a perfectionist and sometimes it's almost crippling because I agonize over stupid little decisions.
  24. I love travel and would spend my life moving from place to place if I could.
  25. I never put principles over people. Honesty is not always the best policy; kindness, goodness, gentleness, and forgiveness are.

Saturday, January 24, 2009

More good stuff than I can stand

I was going to log on this morning and complain about the weather. In an ironic way, of course, because my nasty 40-degree day probably sounds deliciously warm to people living in Ottawa right about now, or blessedly cool to those in Sydney. So even though I was chained to a desk all week while it was lovely out, and the weekend is going to be chill and dreary, I've got a new perspective.

My wife made sufganiyot (aka: Jelly Doughnuts). Yeah, I'm easy to please. But, as I may have mentioned, I'm not the baking type. I've never had a baking teacher (love ya, mom!) who did anything more complicated than cake mix or cookie dough. My grandmothers both made cobblers and pies and bread and stuff like that, but I was probably out trapping squirrels or chasing snakes while they were doing it. It honestly never occurred to me that you could get a jelly doughnut out of your kitchen. I just figured it was one of those things that required industrial jelly-injection technology, as featured on Mr. Rogers, and it was beyond the reach of mere mortals. (Didn't you love that bit about how stuff got made on Mr. Rogers? They have whole TV shows of just those bits these days, God bless cable.)

So my wife volunteered to make sufganiyot for the rugby club's post-game dinner today. We've been puttering in the kitchen since yesterday afternoon, at this very task. Jelly injection technology suffers complete failure when you try to use "real fruit preserves" and a whole strawberry gets stuck in the little injection tip. Also, powdered sugar has its own special kind of food coloring called "petal dust." Who knew?

Anyway, who cares about gray weather when you have homemade, jelly-filled, petal-dusted, hand-kneaded, rugby-ball-shaped, doughy goodness on your counter? I've gotta go take care of my part of this operation: quality control!

Thursday, January 22, 2009

where water comes from...

Many years ago, my Aunt Kathy gave to her father a book. It was a mostly empty book, with lots of lined pages in it and printed prompts at the top of each page. The prompts asked simple, generic questions that anybody might ask in a "get to know you" sort of conversation. If you filled out all the prompts, however, you'd have a reasonably good stab at an autobiography. My Papa James, in spite of how intimidating that big empty book was, gave it a serious go in his last few years. Sometimes, he wrote only one word or one sentence in response to a prompt. Sometimes, he had so much to say that he'd write for three pages on one topic, ignoring the prompts on succeeding pages so he could tell his story. This is one of those, and if I say so myself, he's a great storyteller. I hope to grow up to be like him.

Today, I'm a Master's Degreed Civil Engineer with a specialty in Water Resources. I've never lived in a home that didn't have hot running water and modern plumbing and I spend most of my time thinking about how to protect water from the polluting influence of humans. This is my Papa's perspective on water. Change takes time, but -- WOW -- does it happen.
Just FYI, I have corrected misspellings and grammatical mistakes to make the meaning clear, but the text is otherwise unaltered.

Water, A Precious Commodity

When I was very young & even into adulthood, water was not readily available everywhere. If you lived in rural America, most likely your water supply was a well, or if in southern Louisiana, a cistern for rainwater. All over East Texas water was plentiful at about 30 ft. or so. Most people dug their wells about 3 ft. in diam. You could start out digging w/shovel & posthole diggers, but when it got into hard clay & then rock you had to use a flattened point bar & chip away one side while you stood on the other side. Then you scooped up the chips & put in a bucket & handed it up to or had someone else draw it out on a rope. You then got on the other side & did it again. This was a slow process but effectual.
After getting down to the first water, which was usually just a seep or trickle it got real messy, because from there on down the sides were wet clay mud. It was hard work & hot in summer & cold in winter. You needed to keep the walls round & straight, especially if you intended to run concrete tile in it to keep it from caving in later. At night seep water would accumulate & had to be drawn out before digging could resume.
After getting electricity & installing a pump & indoor plumbing, a lot of older wells had to be deepened to either hold more volume or down to another water vein. As long as people had to draw w/a bucket & rope, they were more conservative w/water. Some wells had to be 60 or 75 ft. deep to reach sufficient or good water. (n.b.: The next time you run water, remember these 3 pages)
I had to deepen our well when it got dry one year. It was hard to find someone to go down into a well & work. There was danger of caving & dropping a bucket on them. Humpy Fielder’s well was 75 deep & I helped him clean it out & deepened it a few feet. 5 gal. of mud gets awfully heavy drawing it up that far. Humpy was a trusting soul to work down in that well w/me, a 14 yr. old drawing mud. The hard part was drawing him back up, but by letting the tail of the rope down into the well, he could help pull himself up after he could reach the tail rope.
When water is this precious, you can take turns bathing in the same tub of water. You only use 1 glass full to brush your teeth. You dip your brush into the glass, brush, then wash your brush out in the glass of water, then spit & rinse your mouth w/the same glass of water. It looks kinda gross but your brush just came out of your mouth anyway. You swallow your spit, but if you spit it out into a spoon you wouldn’t want to put it back into your mouth & swallow. Ha. It’s all in your head!
Some people either were too lazy to dig a well or provide water near their home. They carried water from a spring, usually downhill from the house. Some people went to a stream to bathe. A very common practice when I was a small child. All the men & boys went to one hole & the women & girls to another. It was common to see tubs of water out in the sun warming for baths later on that day.
Wash water had to be drawn & heated in a big cast iron pot by wood fire. The clothes were boiled in that pot & rinsed in tubs. That was a chore, especially wringing by hand.
Without water in the house there was no bathroom. Every family had a chamber pot w/a lid to use at night or when someone was too sick to go to the outside toilet. The whole family used that one pot sometime & it got awfully full & smelly by morning, unless someone did the noble thing & went out & dumped it. If you were prosperous, you might have more than one pot. You could really know who was your pal when you were sick & needed your pot emptied.
Besides having to draw water for the family, the animals had to be watered. Even the hogs had to have a mud hole to wallow & stay cool in. A big mule or horse would drink more than 5 gal a day & cows almost as much. Teenage boys usually caught these chores. I almost always enjoyed drawing water except when the rope had ice on it. UGH!
Some people had a specially made bucket for milk to be kept in, down in the well. That way you could have cool milk for supper & it would keep 1 day w/out souring. If it soured a bit you could use it to make butter & buttermilk.
If an animal like a rat or mole or snake or cat got in the well & died the water would smell & taste bad so the carcass had to be gotten out & all the water drawn out. That was a big time job. Usually took hours of constant drawing to get the well empty, as water was constantly running in while you were drawing out. Bleach was then added to kill bacteria & you carried water from somewhere else for a few days. We had 2 wells & that was handy. It saved carrying water very far, too.

Saturday, January 17, 2009

christmas shopping

One of my favorite gift-shopping ideas ever is to give my godsons gift cards. I know that's probably a cop out and I should work harder at buying them thoughtful gifts ahead of time. However, I don't shop for anybody, ever. Not even myself. If I'm not shopping for me, I'm damn skippy not shopping for you.
Since I figured out I could invite people over and give them quality time and steak instead of thoughtfully selected stuff-they'll-just-have-to-dust-until-they-throw-it-out-after-a-respectful-waiting-period, that has been my strategy. So, yeah, there's grocery shopping, but it's not as traumatic as Gift Shopping and I'd have to do that anyway.** Okay, so I don't shop and thus, the gift cards are how I handle Christmas and birthdays for the boys. Their parents would probably smother me in my sleep for this, except that I always take the boys shopping myself. This makes it a gift for their parents, too, so they suffer me to live. And it's a gift for me, because watching the little monsters shop is more entertaining than YouTube's search results for "butterfly fart."
3 godsons
The little one looks around a bit, asks what he can afford, and usually makes a selection inside 5 minutes that lets him take home two mid-sized toys. The older one looks around a lot, buys the largest set of Lego or the flashiest Nerf thing he can afford, and then grabs some trinket to use up the rest of his gift card. The middle one? I could do a three-part saga on how he agonizes, asks the prices of every item on every shelf, whines about what an evil predicament it is to have to shop on a budget, etc. He sets his eye on something worth about three times the dollar amount he has to spend, and then wheedles and whines to his brothers, trying to talk them into pooling their funds and sharing a toy. But he doesn't share well, and he doesn't offer any concessions. He's not very good at negotiating, although I suppose his strategy would work if he had a worldwide monopoly on ... anything. I pity the world if he ever does get a monopoly on anything. But considering that he's the only one who ever buys a book with his gift money, it's entirely possible he'll be the one in a power position someday. And I can say I knew him when. Muahahahahahahaha!

** Unless I happen to have a super-awesome roommate who just likes to shop and lets me give him a list and money a couple times a month. :) Thanks, Brody!

Thursday, January 15, 2009

is this even the same language?

Some days, Rose and I have more trouble communicating than others. On good days, I'll tell you this is because I think in words and she thinks in pictures and then has to translate. Another way of simplifying it is to remember that I'm a linear thinker and she's a circular thinker. Or I'm an engineer, and she's an artist.

On bad days, I'll tell you it's because she doesn't speak frappin' English.

Tonight, as we were pulling into the parking area of a big-box store where we needed to pick up some dog food and NyQuil and a few such sundries, this conversation took place:

Rose: Don't worry, I'm going into one entrance tonight.
Me: Right, because unless you can suspend the laws of physics, you can only be at one entrance at a time.
Rose: Oooo! That's not what I meant and you know it!
Me: Or, I guess if you could chop yourself in half and survive that, you could go into both entrances, although it might not be truly simultaneous. Depending on how you timed that.
Rose: Aaaahhhh! That's not what I said!
Me: Yeah, I know you meant you were going into one PARTICULAR entrance, so as to minimize your walking time to the shopping objective. But that's not what the words that came out of your face meant.
Rose: Damn literal thinkers.
Me: Yeah, it's awful how I expect you to speak English and all.

Luckily, she didn't run over my heel all night with the shopping cart or "accidentally" lose me in the pharmacy. She even let me ride home with her after it was all over.

Friday, January 09, 2009

sometimes, it's the side trips...

Photo credits are a mix on this one. Some are Rose's, some are Chewy's. If it really matters to you which is which, ask me.

Most of the time, when I'm headed off to have a vacation, I have a pretty good idea where I'm going. I have fairly well planned what I'm going to do when I get there. After all, I might not be passing back that way again soon, and I don't want to miss a gem of an experience because I didn't know it was there for the having. But I never nail my schedule to a solid surface and stretch out all the slack, either. It's a blessed thing to reach a fork in the road and have the luxury of choosing which way to go.Cedar Breaks Nap Sometimes instinct guides me, sometimes it's the allure of something shiny on the horizon, sometimes it's the promise of beauty passed in a rumor while chatting with the locals. Other times, it's a mundane highway sign, placed there by the good folks at the local transportation department purely for my edification. (Ok, for the edification of the general public, not me in particular. But it seems like they're written just for me sometimes. The universe has an impeccable timing chain, I tell you.) On the last day of my Utah vacation this summer, we rode over to Cedar Breaks National Monument as planned. I had bashed myself in the noggin with some sinus medication, so I stretched out on my bike and took a nap while the crew took these amazing photos. Medicated was better than congested, but it made me easy prey for the sunbeam-laced cat nap that came looking for me later. The vistas at Cedar Breaks are amazing, and really leave you with the impression that a Creator was looking at all those neat hunks of rock and thinking, "What if i just frosted this landscape with Cedar trees? I know! I'll liquefy the seed mix and spread it on like those Chia Pet things! This'll look AMAZING in about 10,000 years..."
Amazing Cedar Breaks
Fork in ZionChelli had things at home that needed her attention, so she left Zion in the direction of Hurricane to get a t-shirt and then to point her headlight homeward. And so Rose, Chewy, Sylvia and I found ourselves at Zion National Park in southern Utah, staring at a fork in the road. It was pretty nearly our first unplanned turn of the whole vacation, and we were about 6 days in at that point. It took us to Kanab, UT. We'd been on an ATV tour in Tropic, UT a few days earlier, and our guide had mentioned that there were some old Hollywood movie sets in the vicinity that were used to film some of the episodes of Gunsmoke and several Hollywood westerns. He lamented the fact that another set had burned down under suspicious circumstances. Falling Down Apparently the locals had recently rebuilt the set used in The Outlaw Josey Wales (and some other classic westerns) to make it safe for tourists to visit and the scuttlebutt said that extremist environmentalists had torched it because they were unhappy with the resulting traffic. This still-standing TV set was only barely holding together. The whole thing was posted "No Trespassing" but that hadn't stopped a few people we saw from sneaking in. Beautiful Even In Decay I don't know whether Chewy was more disappointed that cheaters were prospering (in that they got close-ups) or that the John Wayne set was burned down. Either way, it was easy to see why they wanted to keep people out. The gallows looked like it was being held together by the wisp of rope that was dangling from the crosspiece, and all the other buildings had the look of using their very staircases as crutches.

Camping in Kanab was just as scenic as everything else in southern Utah. Camping at the Painted Pony in Kanab, UT And I think it was staring up at that butte, sipping a beer and polishing off the last of my macaroni and cheese that I finally let go of the need to know where I was. I don't know how or when this need overcame me. I remember reading the map for my mom on long road trips when I was not more than 10 years old and not caring at all where we were. Somewhere in the succeeding 10 years, I turned into a (slightly compulsive) Navigator. In Kanab, I managed to let go of it for a while.

Lots of people have written books and sung songs extolling the idea that life is more about the journey than it is about the destination. On the one hand, I can appreciate that. But I know enough psychology to know that the sorts of people who are inclined to write books and sing songs are the only people for whom that is absolutely and essentially true. For those of us more inclined to consume art than to create it, life might be journey, destination, or some mix of the two. For me, life is HERE and life is NOW, so the destination and the journey are equally important. Yesterday is pretty much irrelevant, tomorrow is an infinite fan of possibilities that cannot be comprehended, while the present is everything. It makes me rotten at pattern recognition, it explains why I'm 10 minutes late for everything, and it makes me great at Navigation. I can limit the field of possibilities by taking a fork today. Knowing where I am in the moment allows me to foresee, insofar as one can foresee, what possibilities I am allowing or denying by making a choice. Plus, something about vacation tends to slip my inner Perfectionist a Valium Martini, letting me make Navigational choices both literal and figurative without agonizing first over whether it is the perfect choice.

So we woke up the next morning in Kanab, and instead of going home as we had planned, we looked at that fork in the road and took it to the Grand Canyon. I sure do love having some slack in my schedule, because sometimes the side trips are the best part.

Tuesday, January 06, 2009

so far behind i might lap myself...

Last night i had a terrible bout of insomnia, but was not inspired to write anything. "Yea!" is probably what you're thinking in response to that, but I won't hold it against you. Instead, I worked on finally collecting and organizing the photos from my trip to Utah this summer. Wow. My vacation photos from September, and I'm just now getting around to organizing them. Don't ask me about holiday cards. I never got there.

I'm not quite done with the photos just yet. We went on vacation with friends, you see, and there were some complications with getting the photos from them. I'm not going to bore you with technical details, but this would actually have been a little easier if they'd just printed all their photos and sent me doubles C.O.D. Then I could've scanned them and cleaned up the scans and manually entered the camera and date information. That seriously would've been easier.

When I finally get around to writing it all up, you'll see that the photos were, indeed, worth the effort. That should be happening sometime around September of this year, at the rate I'm going. About the same time I get around to doing my Spring Cleaning and making a scrapbook to commemorate my summer in Europe.