Friday, December 29, 2006

Transition

Out with the old. Here is the state of my old office on my last day at the old location. We spent about 25 years in the old building. During that time I lived in about a half-dozen different places on the second floor, with this being my home away from home the last 3-4 years.


Every where for a week before the move were piles and piles of yellow moving crates.

In with the new. Today was my first day in my new office at the new location. Still a lot of unpacking to do, but it's beginning to look like home. (I have a new roommate, you may note. The old computer, which is being phased out, will be living in the corner of my office until it croaks its last.)

The commute has increased by 10 miles one way and I now drive through farm land nearly the whole way on two lane farm-to-market roads. I'm still undecided whether the loss of bumper to bumper traffic offsets the increased mileage, but I'm thinking it may not be so bad in the long run. However, today's commute home was not an auspicious beginning. The rain began to pour down in buckets, with occasional peltings of hail. It's bad enough driving on divided highways with idiot drivers, but it's worse driving on undivided country roads with idiot drivers. It was white knuckle driving today. Of course, it can only get better now.

So ends an era. I've been with the company through two major moves now. I expect the next time they will do it without me. If there's a God in heaven.

LSW

Thursday, December 28, 2006

On the Plus Side

This office move thing has resulted in giving me the best Christmas present in years. I know it will be paid for in the unpacking that will be necessary next week, but for now I'm just gonna sit back and enjoy it.

Word came yesterday that the City of Round Rock has not yet cleared us for occupancy, so vacation has been extended yet another day. Thanks to all this extra time this year, I've managed to get some usually hard to schedule errands done and out of the way. I've changed my oil, seen my chiropractor and reflexologist, and today I get my hair done. With nothing on my schedule this morning, I plan to retreat upstairs with the dogs and cats and wallow in laziness until time to see my hairdresser. Good Christmas.

In other news, I've decided I don't need Amelia Barr's home. My new target is the biggest Victorian house in Bastrop, over on Church Street. Up for sale at an asking price of a paltry $1.25 million. If you would like to contribute, let me know and I'll give you my PayPal particulars.

On the other hand, I shelled out a massive amount yesterday for the taxes on my little house. I'm guessing the taxes on that historic estate would be a bit larger. But with your help, we can pull it off!

LSW

Monday, December 25, 2006

House Rules

Ok, here's the deal. If you get a Christmas present from us this year and it's purring, you must wait to open said present after you get home. No returns allowed. Regifting is acceptable, it you can get away with it.

Joy to the World!

LSW

Saturday, December 23, 2006

Two Days Before Christmas

And all through the house, the creatures are sleeping. A vast improvement from earlier this morning when the heathen cats were bouncing off the walls and the dogs were attempting to discipline them before Mom got any more irritable. Finally their energy gave out and they are fast asleep. I know the chaos will break out again, but for now I am enjoying the peace.

The office move has resulted in a couple of unscheduled vacation days, which gives me a stretch of 6 whole days of Christmas vacation. Yesterday I ran a few errands, but today I'm indulging myself in a day of doing what I want with no apologies. I'm liking it so well, I may keep to the same routine for the next 5 days.

It's been a long time since I have been in the mood to work on my family notebooks. This morning I finally got tombstone photos that I took during the April trip to Indiana and Illinois filed in the appropriate places. I have sorted the stack of "to be filed" into folders by family name and now I can begin evaluating the value of all this material I've gathered. I've taken one over-stuffed notebook and created two. In short, I'm finally getting some things done that have been long overdue.

Not sure what the afternoon and evening will bring. The rain dripping off the house is tempting me to crawl back into bed with the dogs and watch an old movie or two. Why not?

How nice to have several days with nothing that has to be done.

LSW

Thursday, December 21, 2006

Just Plain Scary

Remember the scene from The Godfather when the fellow wakes up with the horse's head? Was it any less scary for me this morning at 3:00 a.m. when I ventured down the stairs and came across this grisly scene about half-way down?

Poor innocent little bear. Cut down in the prime of his life by a vicious attack of the heathen cats. They have no shame. Oh the inhumanity! Oh the horror! Oh how will I sleep tonight knowing the awful things that are happening under my roof?

Let the nightmares begin.

LSW

Wednesday, December 20, 2006

Now I Ask You

Just how is anybody supposed to get anything done around here? All activities are subject to "assistance".

(By the way, I don't usually take blurry pictures. However, most all of my pictures of the heathen cats are blurry. That should tell you something.)

LSW

Saturday, December 16, 2006

Heathen Cat

It seems like every time I casually refer to the kittens as the "heathens", some poor innocent gives me a look and says "how can you say that about those sweet little kittens?" Hah. Sweet, my you-know. Does this look sweet?



I present as evidence exhibit A. It used to be my piano lamp. This morning it became a pile of glass shards. Mr. Boo decided to explore the top of the piano this morning about 6:30. CRASH!!!!

I was not pleased to have to haul out the vacuum and sweep up glass before I even had my first cup of coffee. I was not pleased to discover about a half-dozen scars in my piano where the lamp bounced on its way to the floor. I was not pleased later in the day when I did some searching on the internet to discover how expensive it will be to replace the glass shade.

Boo beat a hasty retreat and did not resurface for an hour or so, at which time he strolled in, jumped in my lap and pretended he had no idea that he was in disgrace. And that insane purr.

Heathen, indeed.

LSW

Friday, December 15, 2006

Kaleidoscope

I took today off - one of those irregularly scheduled mental health days. I decided to go to San Marcos and see what was going on at the outlet mall this close to Christmas. I had a couple of people left to shop for, so that was my excuse.

It was a good day. Nothing dramatic, just a series of small moments that gave me a lift here and there.

Sensory lift. When I left at 8 a.m., it was foggy. Pea soup, in fact. For most of the way between Bastrop and San Marcos, you could not see past the ditch on the side of the road. Traffic was light, so there were few headlights coming my way and the ones that did winked in and out of the mist like fireflies. I was listening to my new Celine Dion Christmas CD, which had lots of orchestral and choir effects. It struck me at one point that you could imagine you were floating in a cloud and hearing carols sung by a chorus of angels. It was a most enjoyable drive.

Inspiration. At my first stop (Hobby Lobby) I figured out how I could have some Christmas decorations this year that would not be subject to immediate shredding by the heathen cats.

Humor. Once the fog cleared, I passed two vehicles with bumper stickers that made me smile. On an RV was a sign like you would see on a gate to a ranch or estate--"Kramalot". On a small vehicle driven by fellow liberal came the message "Make Levees, not war".

Tripping down memory lane. I made a quick excursion to a music store at the mall. Surprisingly I found the item I was looking for and did not expect to find. I also found a newly released cd of the early songs of Rusty Wier. I had two of his albums when I was in college that I played until they were worn. I've been wishing they would release his early albums on cd, but his popularity is localized and it did not seem like they ever would. Today's find included remastered tracks of the best cuts from the two albums. I probably have not heard some of the songs for almost 30 years and as soon as the first guitar lick was played, the lyrics came back to me and I was tapping my foot and dancing in my seat. I had to play "Don't it Make You Wanna Dance?" and "Trouble" and "I've Heard You've Been Laying My Old Lady" twice through. Fabulous stuff. Felt like I was 18 again and learning to two-step with the girls on the 2nd floor of Ruth Stribling dorm.

Feeling like I belong. I've always had a soft spot for the non-conformists, which is why I like Austin. Cruising back from San Marcos I had two guys on motorcycles tailing me for quite awhile. We were on that stretch through Uhland and Niederwald where it's two-lane and no shoulder. Somebody about 6 vehicles ahead was poking along, in no hurry. Neither was I, so I just drove along, rocking to Rusty Wier, and keeping an eye on the rear-view mirror in case my companions got antsy and decided to pass. Traffic from the other direction was heavy and I knew I would have to make some adjustments if they suddenly pulled out. But they seemed content to cruise along slowly. When we finally got to an area where I could pull over on the shoulder and let them pass, here they came. Two guys about my age, waving a friendly salute as they drove by. I followed them for awhile and a little ways down the road, the fellow who had waved put his hand down to signal a stop at a place where there was nowhere to turn. I slowed and about that time 3 dogs came barreling across the road. I appreciated these guys not only for stopping for the dogs they could see and I couldn't, but also for warning me. I sorta hated to part company with them a little later down the road.

Life has been pretty sucky lately and it's nice to have a day when you go from one little lift to the next. Reminds you to appreciate the little things and to keep going. You're bound to drive out from under the fog eventually.

LSW

Thursday, December 14, 2006

Buzzed

I've been on a taste-test campaign lately, seeking the best tasting coffee to be had at the local grocery. I had this idea that the price didn't necessarily correspond to the best taste. I also decided to stick to ground coffee, even though I know that grinding your own beans would elevate the taste. I just don't wake up enough to be able to handle another chore in the morning, even the grinding of coffee beans.

First and foremost, all tests are done by making a full percolator of coffee. It just doesn't work to make coffee in smaller portions. Keeping in mind the following is my personal, humble, non-objective opinion, here is the tally so far:

Folger's isn't as bad as little brother thinks. It's at the high end of average.

Maxwell House, ditto.

Seattle's Best is yummy. I'm a little partial to Henry's Blend. Expensive, though, at the rate I guzzle the stuff.

Starbuck's is good, but since the price is about the same, I'll take Seattle's Best.

Stewart's I tried because it comes in a can with a Scottish tartan design, which appealed to my genealogical bent. I would put it at the low end of average.

Melitta. Ick. Bleah. Sucks. First can I was tempted to dump before I finished it. Gag.

Paul Newman's Gourmet Coffee. Average. At least it helps charitable causes, which makes it a little more palatable than feeling like I'm padding some CEO's Christmas bonus.

The quest continues.

From a slightly different angle, I've recently purchased a home espresso machine so I can indulge in lattes whenever the mood hits. I was so pleased to realize that I could enjoy a latte on my diet with no guilt. (It's a sacrifice to have to avoid milk and use cream or half-and-half, but one does what one must to toe the diet line.) A packet of Splenda added in and it's dessert in a big cup. So far I've used Alessi regular and decaf espresso roast and it is umm-umm-good. Of course with the Splenda and cream added in, the Melitta might even taste good, so it's hard to give an unqualified rating.

Don't bother telling me I should cut down on coffee. I've done all this testing on no more than two cups of coffee a day, with the odd latte thrown in about twice a week. My quest is to make those two cups of coffee a day the best possible.

And finally, whatever the dreck is that we have at work is at the very bottom of the heap. We've gone through several coffee services and the one thing they all have in common is the worst tasting coffee in the universe. Think dirty socks steeped in stagnant water. I really don't understand how they manage it.

LSW

Tuesday, December 12, 2006

Wishful Thinking

I really don't like December. I usually go into a depression on December 1st and stay there until January 1st. It's complicated, but I dislike Christmas. Not the reason behind it, but the shopping and the over-eating and the crowds and the rushing around at the last minute and the wrapping and the juggling of schedules and, and, and.

I haven't really enjoyed Christmas since about 1972. After that year my grandparents began to decline and could not host the big Christmas get-together any more. Shortly after that my parents divorced and it became necessary to have multiple Christmas events. It ceased being enjoyable and started being work. Or maybe it's because I finally realized there wasn't any Santa Claus.

I still enjoy certain aspects of the holiday season - the music and the decorations - but for the most part I secretly long to disappear from the scene until it's over.

I just finished re-listening to Skipping Christmas, by John Grisham. The plot involves a couple who decide to escape on a 10-day cruise to avoid the first Christmas without their daughter, who has joined the Peace Corp and is stationed in Peru. They decide to cold-turkey the whole Christmas thing and refuse to decorate, throw their annual Christmas Eve party or even attend the neighborhood social events. In the end, they discover they can't escape Christmas and must rely on the kindness of their neighbors to salvage the holiday. It's laugh out loud funny in places and you find yourself beginning to panic that you yourself won't be able to get things done in time for your own Christmas.

So I ran around North Austin at lunch and bought all the token Christmas gifts I will need for co-workers. And happened into one of those stores where you're met by friendly staff who act like they have all the time in the world to visit with you and make you feel like they are glad you stopped in to chat. One of those bright spots in a dreary stretch of time. For a brief moment I almost looked forward to Christmas.

It will find you no matter how far you run to avoid it. Might as well figure out a way to enjoy yourself.

LSW

Saturday, December 09, 2006

Mrs. Bell, part 2

I found myself thinking about Mrs. Bell since that last post. She was a unique lady and for some reason she liked me. I don't think it was just because I had a fondness for Beethoven and Chopin.

When we were around 14 or 15, she invited a group of the girls from my class to her home for a slumber party. Most of us were piano students, but not all of us. I'm not sure why she thought to do this for us, but we had a really good time that night. We were given the run of her home and she went to her room and left us to our girl talk. I'm not sure I would have done such a thing for a group of giggly, boy-crazy teenage girls, if I had been in her shoes.

One year she took a group of us to San Antonio for Christmas shopping. Again, I don't have any idea why she put herself out for us. It was my first experience of independent Christmas shopping without the influence of my parents. I had a grand time selecting something for each member of my family and feeling all grown-up. It was a rare moment of semi-independence and it felt good.

Sometime during my high-school years Mrs. Bell took a tour of Europe. She brought each of her students a souvenir from that trip. I received two items: a dried sprig of Edelweiss (to commemorate my having sung Edelweiss from the Sound of Music during one recital) and a shiny sixpence that I was to put in my shoe on my wedding day. I still have both.

When I was a Senior, she arranged for a relative overseas to purchase a jade ring, which she gave me for my graduation present. She also arranged for me to have a Senior recital, which appalled me. I had intended to stop music lessons at the end of my Junior year, but she had her heart set on my having a Senior recital and my parents applied gentle pressure for me to continue on and make the old lady happy. I never in a million years thought anyone would actually attend the thing, but I was pleasantly surprised that a respectable number of friends, church members and relatives did show up for an evening that included Beethoven sonatas and a Chopin etude.

I disappointed her in one respect. She was always very complimentary on my ability to sight-read and on my touch at the piano. I refused, however, to memorize pieces. I just didn't see the point when it was easy enough to have the music right there handy. At this point in my life I would probably enjoy the ability to tear into a Chopin waltz, but memorization of music was never easy for me and I just never worked toward that goal. Even though I was frequently told about her daughter, who had studied music in college and could play all those sonatas without the crutch of sheet music, it just wasn't something that was important to me and she never could motivate me to feel otherwise. It wasn't for lack of trying.

I can remember music lessons in the frame building that sat just off the football field. There was no air-conditioning or reliable heat, so there were days that your fingers nearly froze to the keys or that you sweated a big wet spot on the old bench the exact shape of your butt. There were days I nearly suffocated, when the air was still and hot. Mrs. Bell was fond of lavish application of the perfume Tabu, and the strong fumes would surround my head and make me feel faint.

I can remember one afternoon when she showed up at the house with records of the Beethoven sonatas that I was learning for that Senior recital. To that point I had been learning the music, but had never heard the pieces interpreted by a concert-level pianist. She sat there on the couch with me as we listened through the Moonlight Sonata and Sonata Pathetique. It made a huge difference in my understanding of how the pieces should sound.

I can remember her rings. Her husband had been prosperous and she wore rings set with huge flawless diamonds. I've always lusted after diamonds, even at that early age, and those sparkling rings were particularly impressive.

Come to think of it, she probably did not need the fees she charged for piano lessons. And she certainly did not need the aggravation of a bunch of kids around. She had to have loved what she did to put up with us.

I never fail to think of her when I listen to a CD of Beethoven or Chopin pieces. Those two composers are firmly fixed in my mind with the lady who worked with me for so many years and who really thought I had talent. I just wish I had had a little more than I did. I wish I could have been the pianist she wanted me to be.

LSW

Thursday, December 07, 2006

Fifth Grade and Mrs. Bell

I've been listening to my very large collection of Christmas music this week. Several years ago I was in charge of switching out the music on our office telephone "hold" and I began acquiring a wide variety of Christmas CDs for use during December. Over the years the collection has grown until it's gotten quite obese. (There's that collector's fever thing again.) This year I was managing to hold down the purchase of new CDs until this past week, when I discovered a new seasonal album by Sarah Mclachlan (Wintersong - it's great) and one by Il Divo and a double album of Reba McEntire.

I was pleasantly surprised when I dragged the Christmas CD tote out from under the bed earlier in the week. Last year I had purchased a number of CDs on Christmas clearance and had never listened to them. So I've had a lot of new listening experience this week.

Today I noticed Jimmy Buffet's Christmas album back in the corner of the tote and immediately remembered why I had purchased it. The title track is Christmas Island. This is a cute little song that has been in the back of my mind since fifth grade and it periodically pops in and sashays through my mind and then saunters out. I had tried to find it on a Christmas album for years, but it wasn't until the last year or so that I found it.

Back in the mid-sixties the Smiley school hosted a Christmas program every year. All the classes participated, from 1st through 12th. There were skits, plays, soloists, and a variety of other offerings to entertain the community. (Keep in mind that Smiley had not much to offer in the line of entertainment. People actually looked forward to the Christmas program.)

The lower grades would practice for weeks in music class, singing along under the direction of Mrs. Bell. She had a wide acquaintance with music, both popular and classical, and would come up with some unique numbers for these performances. One year our song was Christmas Island. It was new to me and to my classmates and I liked it's jaunty tune and unusual lyrics.

Let's get away from sleigh bells,
let's get away from snow
Let's make a break some Christmas, Dear,
I know the place to go
How'd ya like to spend Christmas on Christmas Island?
How'd ya like to spend the holiday away across the sea?
How'd ya like to spend Christmas on Christmas Island?
How'd ya like to hang a stocking on a great big coconut tree?
How'd ya like to stay up late, like the islanders do?
Wait for Santa to sail in with your presents in a canoe.
If you ever spend Christmas on Christmas Island
You will never stray for everyday
Your Christmas dreams come true.

Whenever I listen to this song, I remember those Christmas programs. I remember one year, just after the Beatles became so popular, our teacher got hold of several of the 45 rpm records and assembled groups of us to lipsync to this radical music. We wore Beatle wigs and rocked out and probably shocked the heck out of that little community.

I remember one Christmas, when I was older, playing the oldest sister in a play that was presented by Mrs. Bell's piano students. I don't remember having to sing in that production, but I did play a piece on the piano. By that time the poor woman had accepted that I did not have a voice for solos and kept me on the piano. Thanks to Mrs. Bell, I learned a lovely arrangement of Silent Night that I used for years as an offertory during December church services.

There were many who did not appreciate Mrs. Bell and her drive to get the students to performance level. There were times when she pushed me until I was ready to scream. I took piano for nine years under her and gave nine recitals that she drilled me hard in preparation for. But it's probably partly due to her that I have never suffered from stage fright and am always willing to get up in front of an audience and make a silly ass of myself. She taught me to have fun entertaining others.

And she taught me an appreciation for all kinds of music. If not for her, I might never have that cheery little Christmas Island bouncing through my thoughts this time of year.

LSW

Wednesday, December 06, 2006

The High Cost of Health Care

I may not have to put any kids through college, but I sure haven't escaped the medical bills. Today I provided another car payment for somebody at the Elgin Vet Hospital.

This was some day. I started off first thing hauling all the animals over to Elgin. The two kittens had one more round of kitten shots and they shared a carrier. They did not go quietly. They fussed and fumed all the way to Elgin and all the way back. In usual fashion, the whole time they were in the exam room they purred so loud that the doctor and technicians were cracking up.

Coco went along for a pedicure. I promised her no shots, but then the tech managed to cut not one, but three nails too short and we had blood spurting everywhere. That was fun.

Mojo was there for a follow up on his surgery. And a nail trim. (I've found it's well worth paying to have somebody else have to deal with all the hysterics and hissy fits that happen when David and I try to do nail trims at home.) His incision is healing nicely and he's lost a wee bit of weight and has been pronounced to be doing well. His bald butt is gradually growing hair again, so he doesn't look like a mangy orphan any longer.

Xana ended up having to spend the day in hospital and will have to go back again tomorrow and Friday. She is having another sinking spell, probably related to her ongoing renal problems, and is getting fluids and antibiotics. We've entered the elder years when we will have to do these periodic hospitalizations to keep her going.

I really think we single folks with furry children should be able to put the little guys on our health care policy. This is getting expensive, especially when you have a surgery one month and a hospitalization the next month. Add to that the ongoing expense of Xana's nutritional supplement, heartworm preventive for 3, and Mojo's anti-inflammatory medicine until he is fully recovered. It's as much time and energy and cost to take care of the herd as it is to manage Mother.

It's no wonder we are greeted with smiles and open arms when we enter the clinic. We represent a steady cash flow. But, bottom line, my babies are well cared for. I'm a wreck and my checkbook is in shreds, but the dogs and cats are sleeping peacefully around me, secure in the knowledge that Mom will spend her last dollar on them if necessary.

LSW

Sunday, December 03, 2006

Famous Kin?

Interesting time waster. Upload your photo to MyHeritage.com and see which celebrities you resemble.



LSW

Friday, December 01, 2006

In the Pink

I had to make a quick run to the mall today to pick up a present for a baby shower that is to be held at the office next Thursday. It has been a very long time since I'd been to a traditional mall. (That is, not the outlet mall which is an outdoor mall.) I had forgotten just how much I don't like being in the mall. At least it was a work day, so the crowd was not nearly as bad as it could be. I was able to get the baby shower present, make a stop at a Hallmark to pick up the card and gift bag, and pick up a Christmas ornament for the office ornament exchange.

To get these tasks accomplished I walked through Macy's and Dillard's and did some rapid window shopping between the two.

Now, I like the color pink. From the time I was a little girl, I knew I looked good in pink and I've worn a lot of it. I was even shopping for a gift for a baby girl and intended to look for something pink. I have nothing against pink.

But as I walked through the clothing departments I became aware of a plethora of the most hideous shade of pink imaginable. Somewhere in the fashion world some clown decided that the hot color for girls this year was Pepto Bismol pink. Every where I looked was more of the same nauseating medicinal color. It was enough to make a person immediately think of their last bout of diarrhea.

And I thought the lime green of two seasons ago was bad.

LSW

Wednesday, November 29, 2006

Can I Borrow $876,000?

Collecting is hard on the pocket book. I keep saying I'm not going to collect anything else and then before I know it, I have acquired 3 of something and the mad rush to get the rest of the set is on.

Back before the days of the Internet and the ability to find just about anything instantly, it was much more challenging to build a collection. It might be years between acquiring one item and finding the next. But now, you can rapidly build up your collection until you get to that point that there's just one or two more to complete the set. And, of course, those are the same two items that everybody else wants and the price of completing your set gets ridiculous. (For the record, if you know anybody else that collects the Take a Seat miniature chairs and has an extra "Sand and Sea" or "Peacock Splendor" or "Windsor Baby Chair", send them my way. Those are the last three I need.)

One of my collections that started back in the days when it took years to add a new item are books by the turn-of-the-century author Amelia E. Huddleston Barr. According to a great-grandaunt on the Hodge/Huddleston side of the family our Huddlestons are related to the lady. Even though I've never been able to tie down what the relationship might be, I have collected her books over a period of about 20-25 years. They are generally charming, Victorian volumes that are what one might call uplifting moral stories for young ladies.

Apart from the potential family connection, Amelia Barr is also interesting for the reason that she and her husband emigrated from Great Britain to Texas in the 1850s. The family lived in Austin for several years before moving to Galveston where her husband and sons fell victim to a yellow fever epidemic. Left a single mother with young daughters, she moved to New York and turned to writing fiction to support them. She ultimately became one of the most prolific writers of her time.

Her life in Texas is recounted in detail in her autobiography All the Days of My Life. The picture she paints of pre-Civil War Texas is fascinating. Naturally I wanted a copy of this book as soon as I heard about it. I was told at the time (about 1976) that the copies were so rare that I should be prepared to pay $250 if and when I found a copy. I finally found a reprint service and bought a copy for about a third of that price, but I still wanted the real thing. Many years later, along comes EBAY and sellers who did not know the value of that particular book. I now own four of the originals, my own collection within a collection.

It's gotten to the point that I have a copy of most of Amelia's books and I rarely add to that particular collection. I still monitor EBAY for the few that I don't have and for the odd autograph or photo of the lady. And that is the reason why I now need $876,000 to purchase the ultimate Amelia Barr collectible.

You see, her house in Cornwall-on-Hudson is up for sale. Yesterday when I ran my semi-regular check on EBAY, there it was. A 3500 square foot Victorian mansion constructed in 1886. It has 6 bedrooms, 4 baths, 3 maid bedrooms, 2+ acres and more. And this is where Amelia lived! See the listing here. I would even consider living in New York for that house.

Dang, the temptation. My collector's soul is in severe craving mode. {Groan}. Contributions will be gratefully received.

LSW

Monday, November 27, 2006

The Good, The Bad, The Ugly

On the good side:
Sitting in the midst of relatives is always a blast. Even if you don't see each other but once a year, there's no denying the common bonds that family share that make you a special combination in the universe. Along the way, we observed that every one of the descendants of my grandparents has an innate ability to write well. We observed that while most of their descendants inherited the weight genes of my grandmother, one line inherited the weight genes of my grandfather and will always be that perfect, willowy thin that the rest of us battle to attain. (We love them anyway.) We observed that with no exception, all of us move to the beat of our own drummer. That fierce independent streak probably comes straight from the Scot-Irish strain, and I'm proud to be a part of it. We may be difficult to understand and especially to control, but we're never dull.

Grandparents Horace & Lucy Hodge

On the bad side:
Getting a call first thing Thanksgiving morning announcing that your father has fallen and broken his hip. Little brother caught the brunt of this festive round of hospitalization, since Mother can't be left alone. While I enjoyed the company of family on Saturday, he kept the vigil in the surgical waiting room. All is as well as could be expected under the circumstances, but the fact remains that our parents are in decline and the future for them is clouded. One bright spot has been the instant support received from my father's family in the way of emails and phone calls. Another unique family unit that I'm proud to be a part of.

Great-grandparents Will & Amanda Frankum

On the ugly side:
My house. The kittens are in total destruct mode. Things I put in wastebaskets are taken out and shredded into a million pieces. Boo is determined to explore the great outdoors and I have to dash out in my tattered nighty to retrieve him, which is no doubt going to get me a call from the neighborhood association to cease creating a public eyesore. They resent being shut out of my bedroom at night (I have to get some sleep, after all) and run down the hall to slam their little bodies against the door in protest. Sounds like hurricane BooScout has hit. They get into my clothes hamper and drag my underwear down the stairs. And then they crawl into my lap and start that crazy purring. Only thing that keeps their little hides intact.

Gee, I can't wait for Christmas.

LSW

Saturday, November 25, 2006

Game Day Followup

My camera takes terrific pictures, which aren't really done justice by the time they reach the blog. However, there are a few more shots that I will share from yesterday's game. Two more of the bands: the UT band in the stands, with the tubas gleaming in the sun and the Aggie band preparing to take the field. And the video display screen in the end zone. The high-definition screen at UT has even earned a place in Wikipedia. Known as a jumbotron, or in this case a godzillatron, it is an awesome piece of electronics.



(That's the UT band during half-time.)

LSW

Friday, November 24, 2006

Getting Dumped On

It had been about 20 years since I last attended a college football game in person. There was a time, back during my high school and college years that my father had contacts with season tickets to Baylor and A&M games and we attended at least one game a season for several years. I was a UT fan in the late 1960s, when they had that wonderful combo of Wooster, Bertleson and Phillips. Later on, when I got to college, I switched to rooting for Baylor, since that was the closest kindred school to Mary Hardin-Baylor.

But I always had a soft spot for UT and would root for them, except when they were up against Baylor. And I still have a soft spot for UT, so when I was offered a chance to attend the UT/A&M Thanksgiving game this year I grabbed it.

I had forgotten how much different it is to sit in the stands, as opposed to watching on TV. (Though now you can watch it on TV at the same time, what with the huge video display that offers instant replays. And ads. Those I could do without.)

We were only a few rows up from the UT bench, in a stadium that was almost entirely orange.

The enthusiasm of the fans was worth the trip. From the time the players entered the stadium in a cloud of smoke, the cheering squads, the band and the fans were in constant motion and in loud support of the team. The Aggies made the scoreboard first, but the Horns came back with their own touchdown and led 7-6 for quite awhile. The mood of all concerned was fairly upbeat at the half.

The Aggie Band was in perfect form, as usual.


The UT Band is always the best part of the game for me.


And the crowd went wild. Particularly when a touchdown on UT's part was called back for some infraction that I did not understand and that really ticked off the die-hard Horns around me. From then on, the game went the wrong way for the Horns. With long times of possession by the Aggies, and during which they scored the winning touchdown, time just ran out for the Horns. But they kept trying and the fans kept their enthusiasm up to the end. Sadly, in the last 25 seconds of the game, the Horns' quarterback was injured and was transported off the field and to the hospital for evaluation. A troubling end to a difficult game.

I can only hope that my attending the game was not a jinx. Back during those days when our family travelled regularly to Waco or Bryan for games, it seemed like I always supported the wrong team. (Not that fans of Baylor weren't used to losing during those days, but it was still a disappointment to never see them win.) I even stopped watching UT in bowl games on TV, because they only won when I didn't watch them. I had hoped that the jinx was broken last year when I took a chance and watched the Horns win the National Championship. Let's hope today was a fluke, because I rediscovered today how much more enjoyable a game is in person and I don't intend to wait another 20 years to see another one.

Last, but not least, the perfect end to a day when your team loses. I decided to stop at a Sonic on the way out of town and pick up a Route 44 diet Coke with lime. (Love the things.) I wait for 10 minutes, pay my $2, and head out MLK toward Webberville. After I manuvered the traffic signal, I lifted my glass for the first swallow and discovered that the car hop had somehow managed to puncture the glass as she handed it to me and it had been leaking for several minutes. I had diet Coke pouring into my lap, the cup holder in my console was full, and I was in traffic that gave no opportunity to pull over and deal with the gushing, sticky fluid. Forty-four ounces of the stuff. I used my jacket to attempt to sop up the mess, but since the jacket is somewhat waterproofed that didn't help too much. I finally hit a stop light and dumped what was left out the window. Never even got to taste it.

I still had a good time today.

LSW

Thursday, November 23, 2006

Just Plain Nauseating


These two heathen cats spent all afternoon sleeping on the back of the big chair, purring like crazy. I had intended to post a video clip, but haven't yet figured out how to get that accomplished. Suffice it to say that they've been purely sickening.

Nothing is safe anymore. They were up at 4:30 this morning racing up and down the stairs and throwing themselves at the bedroom door. A couple of nights ago they managed to turn over a dollhouse kit that was leaning against the guest bed and it sounded like someone had broken in.

On the other hand, they will crawl in my lap, reach up and pat my face and start that insane purring. When I was little and would get to giggling, Mother would tell me that my giggle box had turned over. These cats regularly turn their purr box over. They erupt with rattly purrs that you can hear clear across the room.

This is what I have to live with. You should have pity on me.

LSW

Tuesday, November 21, 2006

TA DA!

YeeHaw!

Twenty pounds gone.

Five to go.

LSW

Monday, November 20, 2006

Say It Isn't So!

A couple of posts back I mentioned that I have definite plans to enjoy a Mexican pig out after I drop a few more pounds. My plans involved La Cabana restaurant outside Smithville.

Saturday's Bastrop Advertiser carried a story that has me in shock. Seems a few days ago, along about midnight and shortly before the last of the employees were to leave for home, an electrical fire broke out in the ceiling. The fire department was quickly summoned. The fire was put out, but in doing so it was necessary to pull the ceiling down in the newer, non-smoking section of the restaurant. While the adjoining convenience store and gas station are still in operation, it was necessary for them to temporarily close the restaurant until repairs are made.

Holy taco cravings, Batman! While I'm relieved that the situation is temporary and that the main restaurant was basically undamaged, just knowing that their larrupin' salsa is out of reach has me pining for the stuff. I sure hope that the repair work is done post haste and within 6 pounds of today. I'm in pain here.

{sob}

LSW

Saturday, November 18, 2006

Words to the Wise

A few years ago I bought one of those blank books you see in bookstores. I've never been one for journaling, until blogs came along, so instead of using it for its probable intended purpose, I have used it as a mini scrapbook. It contains interesting cartoons, obituaries of people I know but are not related to (the related ones would be filed in my family notebooks), articles clipped from newspapers, and a miscellany of quotes that could be used to fill in small gaps in family newsletters.

So, here is a sampling of my collection, for thought or a smile:

Every year is a souvenir that slowly fades away - Billy Joel

Your friends will know you better in the first minute than your acquaintances will know you in a thousand years.

Never confuse having a career with having a life.

Kids are like boomerangs -- the harder you throw 'em, the harder they hit the house when they return.

There's no need for a piece of sculpture in a home that has a cat. - Wesley Bates

Anybody who doesn't know what soap tastes like never washed a dog. - Franklin P. Jones

A skeptic is a person who when he sees the handwriting on the wall claims it's a forgery. - Morris Bender

It's all right to sit on your pity pot every now and again. Just be sure to flush when you're finished.

Every murderer is probably somebody's old friend. - Agatha Christie

If only we'd stop trying to be happy, we could have a pretty good time. - Edith Wharton

I became insane, with long intervals of horrible sanity. - Edgar Allen Poe

It is the friends you can call at 4:00 a.m. that matter. - Marlene Dietrich

Any idiot can face a crisis - it's this day to day living that wears you out. - Anton Chekov

If you have an unpleasant neighbor, chances are he does too.

One of the greatest tragedies of life is the murder of a beautiful theory by a gang of brutal facts. - Benjamin Franklin

A good man will take care of his horses and dogs, not only while they are young, but also when they are old and past service. - Plutarch

Happiness is the art of making a bouquet of those flowers within reach. - Goddard

The wise man must remember that while he is a descendant of the past, he is a parent of the future. - Herbert Spencer

Until one has loved an animal, a part of one's soul remains unawakened. - Anatole France

And finally,

A closed mouth gathers no foot.

LSW

Out of Left Field

Sometimes you run across the oddest things.

This morning I was rearranging books in my office and came across a little volume I purchased on EBAY awhile back and had never had a chance to look at closely. It contained an essay on the efforts of the author back in the 1940s thru 1960s to have a marker erected at the grave of John Wesley Hardin, over the strenuous objections of some of the local folks in El Paso. I was idly flipping through the pages when I saw a reference to my old home town Smiley.

Upon closer reading, I discovered a surname that I was well familiar with. The referenced man's wife was the grand-daughter of John Wesley Hardin and had provided the author with quite a bit of information and support in his quest. The author had visited them at their home in Smiley. An old-timer I knew in Smiley when we lived there had the same unusual surname. He happened to be the grandfather of one of my close elementary classmates. My friend's grandfather had a different first name, but I knew there had to be a family connection and being the clever little genealogist I am, I set to work to find the connection.

In short order I discovered that my friend's grandfather was the son of the author's source and that, therefore, he was the great-grandson of John Wesley Hardin. Which made my friend the great-great-great granddaughter of John Wesley Hardin.

And I never knew a thing about this. I wonder if, given the notoriety of John Wesley Hardin, the family deliberately suppressed the information and possibly my friend had no idea at the time. Or, if the matter was discussed and I had no idea who John Wesley Hardin was and dismissed the information as uninteresting. Many years later, with a wider knowledge of Texas history, I was amazed to put all this together.

What a plum of a black sheep any genealogist in that family can claim! I can at least brag I once spent the night at the home of the outlaw's great-great-great granddaughter.

Cool.

LSW

Thursday, November 16, 2006

Gobble, Gobble

Tomorrow is the annual company Thanksgiving pot-luck. I was trying to think up something I could take that would be generally acceptable as Thanksgiving fare and that I could eat. (Keeping in mind that the company springs for the turkey.) I gave up. I'm making homemade cranberry sauce that I can't have.

Thanksgiving this year is going to be a challenge.

No dressing.
No broccoli-rice casserole.
No sweet potato casserole.
No mashed potatoes.
No cranberry sauce.
No pumpkin or pecan or apple pie.
No hot rolls.
No pralines or peanut brittle (Hodge family get-together staples).

I can have turkey and salad and maybe a vegetable if there is no canned soup or onion rings or bread crumbs involved. Tomorrow I may not have anything more than turkey, because I know the kinds of things that show up at the company pot-lucks.

Well, pooh. I do love dressing and broccoli-rice casserole and pumpkin pie and hot rolls. But I am not interested in jeopardizing the diet. Just yet, anyway. I'm less than 10 pounds from my initial goal and I WILL MAKE IT or know the reason why.

So instead of anticipating the Thanksgiving glutton-fest, I am focusing on my own target. When I hit that goal that's just 7 pounds away, I am going off the diet for a day. I am going to my favorite Mexican food restaurant and eat my favorite enchilada plate and chips and salsa until I hurt. I'm drooling just thinking about it.

And the next day I'll consider what the next goal is. It's been tough some days, but it's sure nice to be a size and a half smaller than I was two months ago. I can live without one round of turkey and dressing.

LSW

Tuesday, November 14, 2006

Scenes from St. Thomas

Our first view of St. Thomas was pretty impressive. The weather was perfect. The sky and water were deep, clear blue. This was the scene coming into the harbor.


Our itinerary in St. Thomas involved a scenic bus ride into the hills, where we were offered several opportunities to take pictures. At one stop we had a beautiful view of our temporary home away from home.


At another stop, we had a terrific view of Magen's Bay Beach, which is on the list of most beautiful beaches in the world. It was rumored that Sir Frances Drake harbored his ships here. Once privately owned, the beach was given to the citizens of St. Thomas for their enjoyment.

We stopped for a tour of Blackbeard's Castle, which has very little to do with Blackbeard. We roamed through several historic buildings and museums. At the end of the tour, we were almost in the main shopping district, where we spent the next couple of hours exploring. To get to the shopping district, we descended a series of steps which took us through a small municipal park. The park had been claimed by a hen with her chicks and by these two old guys sprawled on a bench.They were not at all impressed with their visitors. They invited us to move along, which we did.

LSW

Sunday, November 12, 2006

Island of Blue Dolphins

There seem to be some folks out there that don't believe I actually got up close and personal with dolphins. So here's the proof. Yours truly with Megara.



To answer the most common question I've heard so far: they feel like smooth leather. Not at all fishy. And yes, they are mammals. But no fur. They breath through a blow hole in the top of their head. The trainer got Megara to blow a big puff of air through the blow hole to demonstrate. Their ears are just behind their eyes and we were cautioned not to touch them there.

To begin with, we were taught how to cup our hands so that Megara could position herself in such a way that we could lift her out of the water for kisses. Afterwards, we held our hands palm down, parallel to the water and she rose up on her tail, let us hold her flippers and then she wriggled back and forth to dance with each of us.

I have to admit that I was a bit anxious, since I don't do well with fishy or crawly things. But interacting with Megara was somewhat akin to frolicking with a big, friendly dog. Some of the participants were allowed to toss her treats to her. That was when she would display a huge expanse of sharp teeth. We remarked on scraped places on her back and were told that it was marks received from the other dolphins as they play. At first we were taken aback, but he pointed out that dogs and cats bite when they play, and so do dolphins. It just shows up more with their smooth, velvety skin.

It was truly an experience of a lifetime.

LSW

Friday, November 10, 2006

Poor, Poor, Pitiful Me

So they gave me a shot and when I woke up I had a horrible bandage on my leg and a shaved butt. Where is the complaint department?

Mojo

Post Surgical Report

Haven't gotten around to processing the trip photos yet, but I plan to get started this weekend. Things have been just a bit tense this week, as Mojo had surgery yesterday to correct some problems with his back leg. The report last night was good and he should get to come home tonight. The doctor said he has a bandage that is as big as he is, so I'm sure I will be waiting on the little guy paw and foot for awhile. (Like I wasn't already.)

Turns out that everything that could have been wrong with his leg was. He had torn a ligament that runs alongside his knee, the cartilage in his knee had shattered, and the groove that holds the kneecap in place was so shallow that the kneecap was sliding out of place. He has had an artificial ligament created, the pieces of cartilage removed and the groove deepened. No wonder the poor little guy was so touchy lately.

Mom was on pins and needles yesterday waiting for the doctor's call. She assured me that he was going to be sleeping through the night and loaded with pain meds and that someone would be there to keep an eye on him. I guess I'm improving a little, since I didn't insist they set up a cot in sick bay so I could stay with him. (The last time that Bebop had surgery, I was allowed special permission to sit in Recovery and hold him while he came out from anesthesia. When you spend the kind of money I do with a vet clinic, you can push your weight around a little.)

So I'm glad it's over and I'm looking forward to him being able to run around like a little boy should be able to do, without carrying one leg up all the time. I'm told it will be about 6 weeks before he's fully recovered, but the alternative was to never walk right again. I can live with 6 weeks of slavery. I'm sure he will take advantage of the situation.

In other news, the kittens grew about double while I was gone. They are at that lean and lanky pre-teen stage. And full of mischief. They've learned ways to get up to high places and prowl among the things I would rather they left alone. In other words, we are well on our way to having full blown cats. May God have mercy on our souls.

LSW

Wednesday, November 08, 2006

Cloud Illusions

Rows and flows of angel hair
And ice cream castles in the air
And feather canyons everywhere
Ive looked at clouds that way



Coming back to Austin from the Dallas/Fort Worth airport, we were warned of potential turbulence from thunderstorms. Above the storm, the clouds were fluffy and white, billowing up like whipped cream or maybe the 7 minute frosting that was so popular with my grandmothers' generation. Yes it was bumpy, but so very beautiful. And the words of Joni Mitchell sprang immediately to mind.

LSW

Monday, November 06, 2006

Brace Yourselves

I'm back and I have pictures.

The next few days will probably be a recap of my activities during the last few days.

But for now, just stopping by long enough to let you know I'm back safe and sound.

And tired.

But happy.

LSW

Friday, November 03, 2006

Cool Stuff

So yesterday I kissed a dolphin. Really. Me, the non-swimmer, who doesn't like fishy things in the ocean swimming between my feet. I actually got down in a pool with 4 dolphins, got kissed, gave a kiss, and danced with Megara. The only scary part was when they told us to get out in the pool and swim with them. I mentioned I don't swim. They said that's why they put life-preservers on us and to get out there. So I cautiously paddled my way over and hung on to Lana's life preserver to stabilize myself.

It was worth it. I also got to pet Megara and rub her tummy, which is somewhat akin to rubbing Coco's tummy. She had the same "gone" look on her face. Quite an experience.

Also, we got a half-hour to play on the pristine beach alongside the dolphin enterprise. The waves were very forceful and we got our noses rubbed in the sand several times. It turned us into little kids - giggling and running back for more. When we got back to our cabin later than night and peeled off our swimsuits, we had about a quart of sticky sand inside. This morning I was still scraping sand out of my ears.

The ride over to the island of Anguilla took about an hour by water taxi. It was a rough ride and we made the mistake on the way over of sitting in the outside portion. Exactly the perfect place to get completely soaked before we even got to the island. Anguilla is in the British West Indies and St. Maarten, where we started out belongs jointly to the Dutch and French. So I was in two foreign countries yesterday. Great experience, all the way around. We had a great day and didn't do one speck of shopping, which seems to be the primary motivation of a lot of people we are traveling with.

We are exhausted, but relaxed. Ready to get back home and kiss babies, but sorry to see the end of the trip.

But they are already talking about the next one. And maybe to Alaska....

LSW

Wednesday, November 01, 2006

A Pirate's Life for Me

So I went all the way to Saint Thomas, Virgin Islands, to see:

1) K Mart
2) McDonald's
3) Home Depot
4) Subway

Ok, at first it seemed like that was it. But then I saw:

1) Iguanas resting on a park bench
2) Mountains of bougainvilleas in every imaginable color
3) The view of an amazing harbor from a tramway
4) Pirate statues at Blackbeard's Castle (which, by the way, he never lived in)

It's a gorgeous place. It's a hot place. About 95 degrees and 95% humidity. It was getting to this ole Texas gal. Had to find a place in the shade and a cool drink.

The folks were nice. The scenery was unbelievable. Wouldn't have missed it for anything.

LSW

Monday, October 30, 2006

Caribbean Carousing, Day 1

After a thoroughly exhausting Sunday--getting up at 4:15 am to catch a 6:00 am flight and then running nonstop until about 5PM--we finally found ourselves aboard the Mariner of the Seas. It is awe-inspiring when you catch your first glimpse. It's the second largest passenger ship in the world and it's the size of a small country.

Our first stop had to be cancelled because the seas were too rough for the transfer boats to get us to the island. So we've spent the day exploring our new residence. We've had our first spa experience and are nice and relaxed from a wonderful massage. Tonight we play dress up and tomorrow we start our first day with the genealogy folks.

So, all is well in Royal Caribbean land. It is amazing just how quickly you can completely lose track of time and of the day of the week. (Of course, changing time zones about 3 times over the course of two days helps in that regard.) To help us stay in touch with reality, the RC folks place a new rug in the elevators with the day of the week emblazoned thereon. Sort of like the day of the week panties that were so popular back when.

Gotta run for now. We have a conference reception, followed by the Captain's Gala, followed by the Captain's Reception to prepare for. Catch you tomorrow. Tuesday, I think...

LSW

Friday, October 27, 2006

Lost

Tomorrow is the start of my fall vacation. And yes, it involves genealogy. But there will be no libraries or dusty archives or damp courthouses this time around. Probably no cemeteries, but I'm not guaranteeing that one.

About 200 of the genealogical persuasion are embarking on a 7-day Eastern Caribbean cruise. We are congregating in Florida and will set sail about 5PM on Sunday afternoon. We will visit Cococay in the Bahamas, Charlotte Amalie on Saint Thomas, and Phillipsburg on Saint Maartens. When we are not exploring tropical islands, we will be discussing various aspects of genealogical research while at sea on board the Mariner of the Seas.

Up to now I've not really had the desire to visit tropical islands. Given the choice between Hawaii and Banff National Park in Canada, I would head to the mountains. However, I must admit that 3 seasons of Lost have me curious about lush, isolated islands. Hopefully we won't encounter any buried hatches or misplaced polar bears, but I do hope to walk sandy shores and wade in clear blue pools and get to know some new people.

I'm traveling without the laptop this time. We will have some Internet access on board and I will try to post an entry here and there to let you know that we're not really lost. But for the most part we plan to disconnect for a week and just enjoy our surroundings.

Sure hope there's a Jack or Sawyer on board. Life would be so much more interesting if there were.

LSW

Monday, October 23, 2006

Just Call Me a Flapper

The diet is working. I'm down 14 pounds to date. While I don't feel much different, it is hard to miss the fact that my slacks are all beginning to bag and flap in the breeze. These are slacks that just two months ago were beginning to feel a bit snug for comfort. I've moved down one size and teetering at the small edge of that one. It won't be long before I have to go shopping again. (Woe is me!)

I'm preparing for a weeklong cruise in the very near future and it's been a challenge to put together the trip wardrobe. Clothes I bought last month expressly for the cruise are almost too big now. I'm wearing them anyway. People will just have to wonder.

About 200 genealogists are gathering together in Orlando for a week's cruise on the high seas, with stops in the Bahamas and the Virgin Islands, interspersed with presentations by some very prominent professional genealogists during the days at sea between ports. Yes, it's another genealogy trip, but no dusty archives this time. Probably not even one cemetery stop, though we are taking a tour of Blackbeard's castle so we might get to see a ghost or two.

Tonight I did the cooking for a week's worth of dog meals to fill the freezer. Little brother refuses to cook for the little people, and they won't eat canned food. So I made a mountain of boiled chicken tonight and then shredded it and bagged it. I'm a good mommy and I feel guilty already.

Boo Cat was enthralled with the smells. He wound around my feet until I gave up and gave him a small piece. A monster was created. He loved the stuff and he wanted MORE. To emphasize his desire, he took a flying leap up my leg and buried his claws in my upper thigh. It definitely got my attention. I explained to the little toot that his approach needed work, while trying to stanch the flow of blood down my leg.

To save myself from further damage, I tossed a few scraps in the floor. A few minutes later you would have thought that a tiger was protecting its kill. Scout had made a move to sample one of the chicken pieces and Boo let out a growl worthy of inhabitants of the Serengeti. So I had to toss a few more scraps in the floor for her. I think I am seeing the writing on the wall with those two. It's only a matter of time before I'm cooking for the cats, too.

So the countdown is on. The suitcases are out and the dogs are giving me the cold shoulder. I'm in the pre-vacation mode where everything at the office is making me completely nuts. (I would much rather be at home packing my baggy clothes than dealing with the day to day aggravations.) Lord, give me strength to get through this week.

LSW

Sunday, October 22, 2006

My Staff



Meet my staff, without whom I would not be able to run a functioning household. At front center, is Mr. Mojo, first lieutentant. Directly behind him is first assistant secretary Coco, who apparently is on vacation today (nothing could persuade her to look into the camera). Proceeding clockwise, we next see Xana, managing secretary. On the uppermost level is Miss Scout, intern. Finally we meet Mr. Boo, the rising young upstart, who has his eye on the first lieutenant position.

They had an exhausting morning, helping Mom move the remaining plants into the "greenhouse". Time for siesta.

LSW

Thursday, October 19, 2006

Impressed, Confused, Addicted

One of my tiny little weaknesses is a fondness for electronic games. Some nights I spend the last thirty minutes before going to bed playing various free games at msn.com. (I'm fond of Rocket Mania and Word Mojo, in particular.)

I also have a stack of handheld games that I've impulsively picked up on Wal-Mart stops. Until yesterday my favorite of that genre was Yahtzee. But there's a new favorite in the house.

20Q. A little plastic ball with a scrolling text line that asks you a series of questions about some object, any object of your choice, and attempts to guess what you are thinking within 20 questions. You press the "yes", "no", "unknown", or "sometimes" buttons in answer to its inquiries. The thing is spooky in its ability to zero in on the answer.

Being a stubborn cuss, I have been coming up with the most bizarre things I can think of to test its powers. I decided to think of an oak tree. I figured it would guess tree easily enough and I would have to accept that it had won. I never figured out what it had asked me that allowed it to correctly guess oak tree. But it did. I was astounded.

Ok, next test was a zebra. It hit it easily within 20 questions, though I never figured out why it said zebra and not just a plain horse.

Aha, I thought. Got you now... I pictured a tombstone, a common object to this cemetery hopping genealogist, but not such a common thing for other people to be thinking about. I'll be damned if it didn't guess that as well. It took it 25 questions, but it got it.

The little gizmo gives itself an extra 5 questions if it doesn't get it right the first time, but if you stump it in 25, it concedes defeat. So far I'm managing to stump it about 1 time in 10. Believe me, I am throwing it some pretty weird challenges. "Tombstone" and "frying pan" it guesses. I stumped it with "walnut". Bizarre and unpredictable.

And completely addictive. Who needs TV?

LSW

Sunday, October 15, 2006

Voila!

Okay, before we start on the real topic, here is an update on the resident hooligans. They are no longer cautious around their kitty tree; they zoom to the top and bounce to the bottom as quickly as it took to type this sentence. They race through the house, tackling each other, the dogs, and me. They can hear me open the pantry door from the far corner of the upper floor. They steal laundry about to be folded and create their own kitty toys from a rolled up sock.

In other words, they are generally a blur and impossible to photograph. Until nap time. See how they've grown...

I must mention here just how fabulously the kittens and the dogs are getting along. I've caught every one of the dogs nuzzling a kitten from time to time and even tolerating friendly pats from kitty paws. It's a miracle.

Now, on to the real topic. It occurred to me that bringing the plants indoors this year was going to be a problem, what with the two little monsters on the prowl. I had visions of broken branches, leaves littered all around, and smelly vapors coming from the potting soil. On the other hand, I knew it wasn't going to be long until the weather guessers came up with the first freeze warning. What to do?

Sometimes I amaze myself. I decided to turn one of the gazebos into a green house this winter, allowing me to keep the plants outside. At first, I figured that I would need a lot of plastic sheeting. And then the brainstorm hit. Shower curtains. I bought 8 of the cheapest clear shower curtains I could find (about $20 worth), and 8 sets of the cheapest shower curtain rings I could find (about $12) and this morning created a very passable greenhouse.
During the coldest nights this winter, I can run an extension cord from Mother's bedroom and put a light in with the plants for a little heat. On the warm days, I will just push back the shower curtains. The plants will still have light and fresh air and my house will be plant-litter free. Win, win, win solution.

LSW

Wednesday, October 11, 2006

Boom, Boom, Ain't it Great to be Crazy?

I'm beginning to wonder about my sanity.

For one thing, I was rechecking the details of my upcoming vacation and realized that I must have been drunk when I made the flight reservations. For some reason I booked a flight that leaves at 6:00 AM. What was I thinking? We've decided we will have to spend the previous night at a hotel close to the airport or there's no bloody way we're going to get there in time.

And then there's the issue of the kittens. The little toots are turning the house upside down. This morning as I was attempting to work on my laptop upstairs, I spent the better part of two hours removing one or the other from either the laptop keyboard, the phone, the tv remote or my leg. As fast as I would get one untangled and removed, the other one would be latching on. As soon as I would convince one of them to stop chewing the power cord, the other would be attacking Mojo and starting a big dog-cat fight all around the bedroom. Anything moveable is repeatedly nudged off into the floor. They are alert to anything I am eating or drinking and do their best to sneak into my glass or plate to check on whether it might be a kitty treat. They are a yellow and black and white blur of activity.

And then, just as you think you can't stand another minute of their devilment, they fall over into a dead sleep, purring and snuggling against me. Who can resist sleeping babies?

No doubt about it, I've completely lost my mind.

LSW

Friday, October 06, 2006

Geez

Ok, the good news is that I've lost 10 pounds on the diet I started the day after Labor Day. It takes about 10 pounds before you really feel the effects of weight loss. My jeans that I bought last fall were beginning to slide down my hips.

So I went to the local Beall's store this past Wednesday and tried on a couple of pair a size smaller. I bought one pair, thinking that I'm going to be losing more weight and will probably have to buy another pair soon. I kid you not, they were snug but comfortable and looked just right.

So today - two days later - I wore my new jeans to work. By the end of the day, the dratted things were sliding off my hips.

I'm not complaining or bragging. Just mark it down as further evidence of the impossibility of acquiring a pair of jeans that really fit. Can't be done.

LSW

Tuesday, October 03, 2006

Literary Corner

My reading lately usually takes one of several directions:

1) Something light but entertaining. For instance, I am currently reading my way through the 28 books in a mystery series by Lilian Jackson Braun, The Cat Who... books. (Sorry, I can't seem to get away from the cat theme these days.) The central character is a middle-aged newspaper columnist who lives with two Siamese cats. One of the cats, Koko, has a knack for sniffing out clues and/or bringing his owner's attention to suspicious people. I avoided the series for years because it sounded entirely hokey, but it turns out that the books are full of likeable characters and the stories are a pleasant diversion when you don't want to have to concentrate too hard on plot.

2) Something slightly more complicated in the plot department. I am also currently reading my way through another mystery series by Elizabeth Peters, the non de plume of Barbara Mertz, a lady with a solid background in Egyptian archeaology. She created a character named Amelia Peabody, an independent lady of means in Victorian England who travels to Egypt, marries an archaeologist, bears him a precocious son and invariably gets caught up in an intriguing mystery while on their periodic digs. I've learned a lot about ancient Egypt reading these books and the mysteries are always well plotted and engaging.

3) The latest book from several authors who never fail to provide an entertaining read: Anne Tyler (hard to describe, but her characters are unforgettable), J. K. Rowling (yes, Harry Potter is for adults as well as kids), Lemony Snicket (ditto his Series of Unfortunate Events books), Ann B. Ross (her Miss Julia books are a riot), and Janet Evanovich (her mysteries or her romance novels can make me laugh out loud).

4) There are the audiobooks that I buy at Half-Price books because they sound interesting and the price is right. Sometimes they are a disappointment, but sometimes you find a jewel. Over the past few weeks I have been pleasantly surprised and grateful to have happened across a few that I can recommend to you in audio or print.

America's Women, by Gail Collins. This history of the American woman takes you on a journey from Virginia Dare in the Jamestown Colony, to the modern woman and gives you a real sense of pride to be an American woman. Also, if you've ever wondered how women managed on wagon trains or in pioneer homes on the frontier, it's a real eye-opener.

The Devil Wears Prada by Lauren Weisberger. It's a flat out hoot. Particularly enjoyable if you've ever spent time as a personal assistant or secretary. Which I have.

Three Weeks With My Brother by Nicholas and Micah Sparks. I had this on my shelf for quite awhile before I decided to give it a try. I've plodded through several novels by Nicholas Sparks via audiobook and I'm of mixed feelings about him. His novels are not something I would heartily recommend since they manipulate your emotions and he seems to delight in catching you off guard and punching you in the gut. However, this book is enthralling. It is a non-fictional account of a 3-week trip around the world that he took with his brother, interspersed with memories of their childhood. It keeps me sitting in the car for several minutes after I arrive at my destination, just to hear the end of a chapter because I'm so caught up in the narrative.

On Writing by Stephen King. King is another writer whose novels I would just as soon never open. But this memoir about how he became a writer and advice to would-be writers is fascinating. And I do appreciate someone who appreciates the proper use of grammar.

The Mitford Books by Jan Karon. Like Anne Tyler, her writing is hard to describe. She writes a series of novels set in the small town of Mitford and whose central character is an Episcopal priest who marries for the first time at the age of 60. The plots are simple slices of life, but the characters are irresistible.

All of these last few books were happy accidental discoveries because the price was right. I will keep haunting Half-Price Books and taking chances on the unknown so long as these kinds of discoveries keep coming along.

5) Finally, there is an interesting website that I discovered through someone else's blog. It's called Daily Lit . These folks have taken many well-known books and broken them down into daily doses which they will email to you on weekdays. Each portion takes about 5 minutes to read. Among their available books was Pride & Prejudice, a book that I've never been able to force myself to read. So I'm taking it a small dose at a time (currently I've completed 12 of 149 segments). It's an interesting concept and I'm reading each segment, but still wondering why so many seem to feel this is such an outstanding book. I find it incredibly dull and hoping I don't feel compelled to relegate it to the junk email bucket before I finish. (True Confession: The only time I ever resorted to using Cliff Notes for a book report was in a college English literature course. The assigned book was Emma, another Jane Austen novel. I just could not make myself finish the thing. It was horribly dull. So, that one time I took a short cut. I would do it again, without a twinge of guilt. The book was god-awful.)

But enough about me. Read any good books lately?

LSW

Monday, October 02, 2006

Conquering Everest

I really am going to get off the kitten posts in the near future. It's just so darned hard not to think that everything they do is exceptionally cute.

I've lost two cats in the last two years to what was probably coyote snackfests. When I committed to take on these two little guys, I decided that they would be henceforth and forever inside cats. With that in mind, I got online and roamed around until I discovered what looked to be like the perfect kitty tree. It was a bit pricey, but I wanted them to be happy as indoor cats. I first set it up in Mother's room, thinking it would be some entertainment for her. The kittens were not interested. They wanted to be in the living area where the more active members of the family were congregating. David and I decided that if I were to get my money out of the thing, we would have to acquiesce and move it to the living room.

One day is all it took for them to conquer their timidity. When I came in today, they were well in residence.

Xana is not at all convinced that the babies are safe on their lofty perches. She frets and grunts until they decide to come back to earth.


But the babies are indifferent to her concerns. They have come to the mountain and mastered its uppermost height. Their world has expanded and they are in charge.

LSW

Saturday, September 30, 2006

Had Enough Yet?

There is a comic strip that I think still runs somewhere, but not in Austin, called Tumbleweeds. It involves the relationship between a bunch of dim-witted cowboys and a bunch of dim-witted Indians. One of the Indians is your basic muscle-bound, empty-headed fellow who is barely able to talk. In a strip many, many years ago, he casually flips a smaller Indian over his shoulder with the comment, "Non likem lil mans. Fro 'em way!"



So, this afternoon's caption should read "Non likem lil cats. Fro 'em way!". Just kidding. They picked my office trash basket as their favorite place to play today.

Just too cute for words, dontcha think?

(By the way, I am doing more these days besides sitting around watching kittens play. Just too lazy to write about it.)

LSW

We Present Noses for Bumping

For those with the strange predilection for cat nose bumping, we present the following opportunity to evaluate the new noses available. I assure you that they are dry and cool.

Beware: Indulgence in cat nose bumping may necessitate serious computer monitor cleaning. Proceed at your own risk.



(For you normal folks out there, I will offer the explanation that it's a Hodge thing. No pet - or baby, for that matter - has been fully accepted into the family ranks until its nose has been gently bumped with the knuckles of the elders of the family.)

LSW

Monday, September 25, 2006

Beware the CATS


They've nearly doubled in size since they arrived. On 3 packets of food and a bowl of cream every day, I guess it's not a surprise. When they aren't eating or sleeping (they've adopted the back of the big red chair under a lamp as their favorite napping spot), they are beating the tar out of each other.

The dogs are enchanted and Coco has moved into the position of mother hen. It's doing her good to feel needed. Xana and Mojo are tolerant and even play with them at times until the kittens are soggy around the neck from dog slobber.

No nook or cranny in the house has been overlooked in their quest for takeover. While the rest of us slowly wake up in the morning, Scout and Boo start their first play of the day when they hear the alarm clock. No snooze button for them. From the noise you would think there was a herd of wild elephants stomping around the house.

The only holdout in the house is the elderly Sister cat. She finds them obnoxious and a blight on her landscape. The kittens say, "Pooh!" And then the tackling and rolling and spitting and running and advanced kitten games resume.

We are having a blast.

LSW

Friday, September 22, 2006

Hidden Tid Bits

Genealogy is a fun past time. You can go for months and not find anything of unusual interest - just the steady flow of vital records, court records, census records and so forth. Nothing that makes you go "Whoa!". Not that I don't enjoy logging all those nice little records you can find in the courthouse and online, but you look forward to those discoveries that make you do a doubletake when you find them.

For instance, the day I discovered that my great, great grandfather fought with Custer. That was an eye-opener. Or the day that an uneventful trip to the Bastrop courthouse resulted in the discovery that my great-great grandparents Hodge had divorced, casting unsavory allegations at each other in open court.

This past week I've been reading material that was sent to me by a distant Hodge cousin. Buried in the thick pile of material was a recounting of a Hodge fortune. It seems that a Joseph Hodges died in England in the late 1700s and, his sons having fallen into disfavor due to their support of the American Revolution, stipluated in his will that his vast fortune was to be held in trust for 100 years and then divided amongst those who could prove to be his legitimate heirs at that time. And we're talking serious money here, in the millions of dollars.

Considerable effort was expended by some of my line's cousins to prove their connection to the estate. Letters were exchanged back and forth across the country, comparing notes on stories heard from their elders, and trying to piece together the line of descent. It makes for an interesting story, but I found myself wondering whether such an estate every really existed. When I inquired of my cousin in Kentucky if he knew what had happened, he told me that the money involved had eventually gone to the crown, since all the sons had supported the cause of the American rebels. Bummer. But entertaining to ponder, nonetheless.

Another odd discovery this week involved my Mason line. My great-grandfather's sister lived in Smithville and was married to a man named Ashley. I've pieced together quite a number of cemetery and court records on the Ashley family, but I've never been able to find any information regarding when Mr. Ashley died. Today, while performing various scans in the archives of the Dallas Morning News, I stumbled across the answer. The item I found read like this:

TWO MEN KILLED BY TRAIN
Were Crossing the Track When the Wagon Was Struck
Smithville, Tex. Jan 28, 1899
This evening at 5:30 o'clock William Ashley, James Farris and Charles Farris attempted to cross the Katy track in a wagon ahead of the south bound passenger train. They were struck by the train, killing William Ashley and James Farris and badly wounding Charles Farris. The team of horses was killed and the wagon demolished.

Another item a few days later confirmed that this William Ashley was the same William Ashley who was brother-in-law to my great-grandfather. And to make things even more interesting, the James Farris mentioned was my great-grandfather's (first) father-in-law. Two members of the family killed in a collision with a train and not one word of this event had trickled down through the family to this dedicated historian. It was definitely a doubletake moment. Not only did I learn the fates of two people in my family records, I realized why there were court records on file in Bastrop that awarded large cash settlements to various members of the Ashley family from the MKT Railroad. Until now, I had assumed there had been some kind of real estate dispute. Instead it was the result of a lawsuit filed by William's widow against the railroad.

The family saga is ever expanding and it's fascinating. You never know when you are going to turn up some dramatic episode like this one. Who knows how many more surprises are waiting to be found?

LSW

Saturday, September 16, 2006

Respects

I don't care much for politicians. Very few seem to care about anything but their own finances and, therefore, sell themselves to the highest bidder. Very few seem to know the difference between the truth and outright lies.

I know two politicians for whom I feel real respect. They always seemed to keep the welfare of their constituency above their own gains. They told the truth. That's big in my book.

One is former President Jimmy Carter. He's the only President I ever considered to really be my President.

The other was Ann Richards. I always felt she was telling the truth. She was a gutsy, ballsy, brassy, outspoken old broad. I liked her, even if I disagreed with her. She's the only Governor I ever considered to really be my Governor.

The loss of this grand old Texas lady this past week has made a deep hole in the fabric of Texas politics. May she rest in peace. And may she keep the angels in stitches with her sharp wit.

LSW

Friday, September 15, 2006

News from the Homefront

Your quiz question for the day. Following is a photo of my right arm. From the evidence would you deduce that:

a) I've been berry picking?
b) My boyfriend needs a manicure?
c) I have a new kitten?

The correct answer is none of the above. I have two new kittens and they are turning the house upside down. Meet Scout (the black and white female) and Boo (the yellow tom).

It's been a mighty long time since we had honest to goodness kittens in the house. The dogs are beside themselves with excitement and trepidation.

I know better, but I can't resist the opportunity to acquire a yellow tomcat. Anyone with Hodge blood flowing in their veins has this hidden weakness. I also miss my Maggie cat and could not pass up the little black and white spitfire.

They are named for characters from my favorite book To Kill a Mockingbird. They are settling in and making their plans to take over the household.

I have other news, including a saga of criminal activity (trespassing on private property in search of a hidden cemetery) and medical horror (surgery on an infected eyelid - I'm all better now), but we'll save those stories for another time. Suffice it to say, I've been a busy little bee for the last week and no time to spend blogging. For better or worse, I think I'm back.

One more pic for the road.



LSW

Tuesday, September 05, 2006

Time Wasters

I have no idea what brought this to mind, but many years ago my aunt, Linda, and I played a game that she had heard of where you think of song titles containing the word "heart" and replace the word with the word "pump". For example:

I Left My Pump in San Francisco
Oh, My Pump Skips a Beat
Pump and Soul
Pumpbreak Hotel
Theme from Titantic, My Pump Will Go On


You get the idea. In a book I read by the late H. Allen Smith, he and his friends came up with a different version. They observed that the orchestra leader Lawrence Welk pronounced the word "heart" as "hard". Then were sent into spasms of mirth by substituting "hard" for "heart". Being a nice, well-bred lady, I will leave it to you to determine just what was so funny about that.

Anyway, that's one way to waste some time. The Austin American-Statesman ran an article a few days ago about how to waste time at work via a handful of websites. I have a few of those that provide a minute or two of comic relief during a dull day. The trick is to not get so caught up in the distraction that you forget you have a job and get fired. Here are a few of mine and of theirs:

http://www.imdb.com/
The Internet Movie Data Base, where you can dredge up excruciating minutiae about any movie, tv show, actor, director, etc., that you can think of. Great time waster.

http://www.lileks.com/institute/gallery/spec.html
The Gallery of Regrettable Food. Believe it or not I actually own some of the cookbooks that he skewers. How sad is that?

http://www.televisionwithoutpity.com/
Television Without Pity. Where the recaps are better than the original episodes.

http://www.vectorpark.com/
I have no idea what it is. But it sure can divert you for a bit.

http://www.fborfw.com/fun/bones/
Took me about 4 times before I managed to win.

http://www.kissthisguy.com/
Who hasn't been embarrassed at some point when you realize that the song you thought you knew was saying something entirely different than you thought.

http://www.careerbuilder.com/monk-e-mail/
Try typing a message and hearing it given back to you by a chimp.

http://www.jigzone.com/
Your daily jigsaw, in whatever kind of pieces you would like. I'm partial to the circles myself.

Ok, I've done my part to distract you. Unless you would like to play "questions", where everything you say has to be in the form of a question. The first one to speak without a question loses.

Have you seen the boss?

LSW




Sunday, September 03, 2006

Nothin' Could Be Finer

The first, second and third finest dogs on the planet. (In no particular order.)

Xana & Coco
Mojo


Little do they know that their idyllic existence is being threatened. Mom has spoken for two kittens to arrive in another couple of weeks. The testosterone level will be increased by a yellow tom and the estrogen level will be increased by an oreo female.

It should be interesting.

LSW